SPARTA, NJ - Sussex County was hit hard by the events that followed Hurricane Sandy in October. Of course, other parts of New Jersey may have suffered greater blows than loss of electricity and tree damage, but on the whole, Sussex County citizens, especially those with more severe property damage, experienced a disaster that changed their perspectives on the value of community and the resources available in time of need. Now that the winter is over and spring has sprung, some citizens look back on the trials endured by Sussex County and other New Jersey residents and look to move on from the destruction of six months ago.
One place of utmost importance during the disaster was the Sparta Public Library, where hundreds, even thousands, of people flocked when the library received its power back on the Thursday after the storm first hit. Libraries around the county, especially in the most severely damaged towns were inundated with people according to Sparta Library Director, Carol Boutilier.
“We were flooded with people. Over a thousand were in here once. You’re never as busy as those days, which is a reflection, I think, on the changing roles of libraries,” explained Boutilier in the basement of the library. “There is a lot the library has to offer to everybody space-wise and resource-wise.”
The library strove to stay afloat those first few days after the Monday storm hit, but staying at home toughing out the storm proved trying for Boutilier and other Sparta Library staff who “just found it extremely frustrating not being able to run the library for three days when we could be providing warmth and electricity to people.”
But she maintains that despite this initial slowness, the staff tried its hardest to encourage people to come to the library for warmth and food. Volunteers even went as far as to offer donations, while other Sparta residents brought “giant crockpots of soup” to the basement to heat up on the available stove and keep in the refrigerator.
According to Boutilier, “There was so much waste of food because people could not keep it in their refrigerators, so we offered people to bring their food to store it and share it with others. It’s amazing how in a crisis, people can see the library as more than a place for books.”
In addition, the library opened earlier and closed later, and staff members and volunteers brought coffee, donuts, water,,and any other supplies they could in order to provide a comfortable atmosphere with charging stations for people working or just going to the library to have somewhere warm to be. For kids, the library showed movies and held games in the basement, where there is a play area and large screen projector.
What is in store for the library now? Today the Sparta Public Library continues to serve as a valuable public resource to people, though not as busily as during Sandy.
Boutilier said, " For me, the most rewarding thing was seeing people appreciative and the kind of generosity they were capable of, it was a really good feeling.”
Of course, one never knows how quickly the weather could go awry, and for a while now the library has been trying to purchase a generator, which could come out to cost upwards of $50,000. A generator, Boutilier said, would be indispensable to providing more facilities for people in the future if the need ever arose. For one, the rest of the public buildings in Sparta have generators and because the library’s system is automated, many staff members worked much longer hours. In the future, Boutilier says, they would try to discuss with the township to bring in township employees to help out.
Volunteers like those at the Sparta Public Library were scarce in the days of Sandy, as so many people were busy keeping warm and even surviving the harsh weather conditions that damaged some homes and destroyed others. However few, there were some Sparta residents like Ginny Jones, Sparta Methodist Church Executive Committee Member and Volunteer at the Church Mouse Thrift Shop, who, from a slightly different perspective, saw the damage done in Sparta and elsewhere and decided to spend her time helping others. After the first few days of the storm, Jones decided to go to the Shore to offer whatever aid she possibly could. She is familiar with Long Branch on the Jersey Shore, where she lived and has a house and also where she went first.
The first thing that struck Jones was the sheer catastrophe that hit the shore, and she stated, “I was most shocked to see that the boardwalk was gone, and what also was surprising was that some houses were knocked over completely, which goes to show the power of the ocean.”
She offered her volunteering services to Tom’s River School, where she worked sorting clothing over the course of three days in Hazlet, N.J., describing the amount of clothes as “endless,” a testament to the charity of people all over the area to donate clothes in this time of need. In addition, free water shoes were sent to the shore along with food brought in by the Texas Baptist Ministry.
Part of the impact of Sandy on the shore has been the increasing number of lawsuits because of the importance of dunes in protecting homes. Some properties are purchased for their recreational value and people tend not to keep dunes on those properties because of the view, but other homes that are behind vacation homes run the risk of more damage because one home may not have dunes.
Jones said, “Some people buy houses on the shore for a vacation home on the beach and they want a nice view, but they risk the protection the dunes provide. Mentoloking, where around 30 percent of the houses are lived in year round, had a lot of damage, because most of the houses were bought for the view, without protection from dunes. In Bradley Beach on the other hand there are many dunes, and it was left in pretty good shape.”
One thing is sure Jones said, "It reminds you you’re not in charge.”
Even with the gap of six months between Sandy’s initial devastation and today’s subtle reminder, the impact of Sandy on private businesses, homes and sense of community has endured.
"People have come to appreciate things more,” Boutilier commented.
Despite the sting of the past, the Sparta community as well as communities throughout New Jersey will continue to look forward and press on, preparing for the future and venturing into it.
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