by Erik Weber
OCEAN GATE – Nearly four months after Hurricane Sandy pushed the Toms River and Barnegat Bay through the front door and out the back of many homes along the beachfront and estuary areas here, Mayor Paul Kennedy announced via press release late Monday night that the Robin Hood Foundation, using monies raised from the 12/12/12 hurricane relief benefit concert in New York City, has allotted borough residents $300,000 in a grant “to get people back in their homes.”
“Funds will go towards items like hot water heaters, furnaces, insulation, electrical wiring, sheetrock, flooring, et cetera,” he stated in the release, noting that the homeowner would have to file an application with Toms River-based nonprofit organization Hometown Heroes to be considered for the program, which may also cover utility bills and clothing as needed.
Hometown Heroes, he continued, would “pay the contractors directly for work performed—no money will be given directly to any homeowners [and] the grant funds are only available to homeowners’ primary home. No secondary or vacation homes qualify.”
“There is a maximum amount that each household will be eligible for—all of the specifics will be spelled out through the application process through Hometown Heroes,” the mayor stated in the press release, noting that the grant funds require certain requirements be met. “I will be the only representative of the borough designated to act as liaison between the homeowners and Hometown Heroes.”
Reached following the publication of his release, Mayor Kennedy, who is also the borough administrator, stated that while laid up sick at home with the flu and watching the 12/12/12 concert broadcast live from Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, he began to brainstorm how he could utilize their efforts and make a difference together for the residents of his town, which he served first as councilman beginning in the mid-1990s and recently as mayor, now in his second term.
After repeatedly e-mailing contacts at the Robin Hood Foundation over the two-week period following the concert, which raised $50 million and featured many rock and pop music acts including local New Jersey musicians Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, the mayor stated he heard back and began a series of weekly conference calls and daily e-mails and phone calls to make the organization understand the unique needs of Ocean Gate.
The borough, which while located on the mainland on the Toms River and Barnegat Bay west of the Barnegat Peninsula, known commonly as the barrier island where very severe destruction occurred, had received severe flooding and damage to many of its homes dating back to the early 20th century along its main riverfront and marshland area neighborhoods.
“They listened and listened all the way through the process,” Mayor Kennedy recalled. “They were interested. The people that I dealt with were very considerate and somewhat demanding of facts, and I gave it all to them.”
He stated that his main contact at the Robin Hood Foundation was Sunny Longbons, and at Hometown Heroes, Mike Thulen, Jerry Conarty, Mike Schwartz and Jen Barna, the latter of whom he said were “good people I’ve known for quite some time – all believers in helping out people in need, and Ocean Gate has its share.”
Hometown Heroes can be found online at www.njhometownheroes.org or by calling (732) 473-9400. Ocean Gate homeowners affected by Hurricane Sandy who wish to take advantage of the grant program are encouraged to contact with nonprofit and file an application for aid.
Mayor Paul Kennedy also provided his contact information to homeowners who have further questions about the program, including his e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org, and office number, (732) 269-3166 ext. 28.
The borough also recently held an open public information session at the Ocean Gate School including representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Ocean Gate Construction Department, local building contractors and charitable organizations to provide insight into the aid available and process homeowners would go through to restore their homes under current and new codes, including the Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps. This meeting was recorded by the Ocean Signal and is available here.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the Robin Hood Foundation awarded the $300,000 grant to Ocean Gate Borough, which was incorrect, as the funding is not going through the borough but is being administered by Hometown Heroes working with Mayor Paul Kennedy to residents residing within Ocean Gate.