By Ron Leir
NORTH ARLINGTON –
For those of you not already consumed by holiday shopping, you should check out several red stockings circulating through the borough.
They’ve got white script lettering spelling out “Xmas 4 The Shore.”
As the name suggests, it’s aimed at providing some relief for the Jersey Shore victims of the Sandy Super Storm and a posting on the borough web site explains its intent.
“In an effort to bring Christmas spirit to families in the shore area affected by Hurricane Sandy, a stocking has been hung at the North Arlington Police Department in the dispatch area. We are requesting residents donate gift card(s) of any amount from any major department store or supermarket. Gift cards (in denominations of $5 and up) may be placed in the stocking on the wall in the dispatch area.”
Deadline for contributions is Dec. 22. Anyone still with a stocking that day may call or text 201-954-6144 by 8 p.m. and request a pickup.
“On Saturday, Dec. 23, your Christmas spirit will be given to families affected by Hurricane Sandy in the Shore area. The gift cards will be given to families from Seaside Heights, Seaside Park, Atlantic Highlands, Ocean Beach, Cliffwood Beach.”
There’s at least one other place gift cards are being welcomed: The Angry Bean, 89 Ridge Road, also has a stocking hanging there, ready to receive any and all donated cards.
Three other residents – Gina Bianchi Choinski and Valerie and Barbara, wives of North Arlington police officers – also volunteered to be stocking messengers. Once they’ve made a “deposit” in their stockings, they’re asked to pass them along to neighbors, friends and/or family members “to continue the spirit of giving” to Shore victims.
The stocking drive is the brainchild of North Arlington resident George McDermott, a 16-year borough police dispatcher who has served with the North Arlington Volunteer Emergency Squad (NAVES) for 21 years.
“So far, we’ve raised (the equivalent of) $1,000 from the donations made at police headquarters,” McDermott said last week. “And the Queen of Peace High School Class of ’87 (he’s a member) has contributed $500 worth.”
Borough-wide, the total value of contributions amounts to about $2,000, according to McDermott, who said. “My goal is to reach $5,000.”
McDermott said needy families will be identified “through churches and contacts we’ve made in the area.”
After Sandy hit, walloping the Northeast and the communities along the Jersey Shore, in particular, McDermott joined NAVES colleagues Jennifer Wong, an R.N., and squad president Linda Fox on a mission of mercy to devastated Shore towns where some Q of P alumni now live.
“We went to Monmouth Racetrack and the Tent City that the National Guard had set up for people displaced from various towns and we reported to Maj. Anthony Freda, Logistics Officer with the 4th Cavalry Brigade, headquartered in Fort Knox, Ky.,” McDermott said.
Working side by side with folks from Louisiana EMS units and local students whose schools had been stripped of power by the storm, they were assigned to distribute bottles of water and K-rations to desperate residents and to provide any medical assistance needed.
“When I was in high school, I used to work for Mario’s Pizza in Kearny and Mario later relocated his business and home to Lavallette,” McDermott said. “Well, when Sandy hit, Mario was in Italy and couldn’t get back; meanwhile, his son was forced out of his home and ended up in Tent City.”
Altogether, McDermott reckoned, the North Arlington contingent probably spent a total of 150 hours spread over several weeks as part of the volunteer Shore recovery effort.
On Dec. 1, McDermott kicked off the North Arlington gift card campaign after purchasing the stockings at the mall.
“With the holidays coming up,” he said, “people who lost their homes are not going to have anything to give as gifts. By doing these collections, we get to utilize other people’s kindness to give the Shore residents a choice to buy what they like.”
Seeing the extent of the destruction was a sobering experience for McDermott. “My family had some inconveniences from Sandy but we didn’t lose homes, memories, possessions like the Shore people did. Sections of our lives weren’t completely lost like them,” he said.
“Their local social service agencies were wiped out so they needed people from outside to help,” McDermott said. “It was a lesson in humility. … You’d see a mother holding her baby not knowing where to turn, not having any clothes for her.”
So members of the North Arlington Volunteer Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary organized a clothing drive.
“They went down with two truckloads of clothes and personal effects which they delivered to Park East, a restaurant in Hazlet used as a staging area, and, from there, the supplies were distributed to residents in need,” McDermott said.
Watching the outpouring of volunteer support, literally from all over the country, was awe-inspiring for McDermott. “God must have opened the gates,” he said. “Angels came out everywhere.”