HomeNews Crested Butte locals grateful after seeing Sandy devastation firsthand
Crested Butte locals grateful after seeing Sandy devastation firsthand
Written by Dawne Belloise
Wednesday, 21 November 2012
The fellowship of the storm
“Only God can park a boat like that,” Kevin Freeman says, describing a large boat forcibly wedged between two houses, shaking his head in utter disbelief at the enormity of the devastation in New Jersey caused by Superstorm Sandy.
After two weeks of volunteering heavy construction clean-up in what looks like a war-ravaged neighborhood, Crested Butte’s own soldiers of compassion have returned home even more thankful for the community they live in. “It made me really aware of just how much we do rely on each other in life and tragedies and hard times,” Freeman reflects. “In the end, it makes you realize all the material things we have just don’t matter. There were people who lost everything and the one thing they all said was that they still had each other and their health. We get caught up in the fast pace of life and think those material things really matter, but the old saying about who has the most toys in the end isn’t true. It’s just more stuff that you have the potential to lose.” For the most part, those who live in Crested Butte have a different perspective of what makes life rich, and a strong understanding of what bonds a community into more of a family. That awareness is put into practice daily and amplified in times of personal catastrophe. The Buttian Jersey boys (Freeman, Peter Maxwell, Dalton Reynolds and Brent Dorf) brought a chunk of our local Good Samaritan philosophy to share with those whose lives were uprooted in the wake of the recent disaster. What they discovered was that the storm victims weren’t initially accepting of free gifts and they were wary of strangers who might be offering a Trojan horse. “It really was the opposite of what we thought,” Kevin said. He related that they had expected neighborhoods to come together in the face of a tragedy and work hand in hand but he added, “Everyone was so concerned about their things.” The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and as word spread about the good deeds done for free by the Colorado boys, neighbors would walk the crew over to someone else’s home that needed help. Kevin and the guys’ genuine generosity overcame the fears of the neighborhood. “Every day we went out in the field. God put us there for a reason. We were a blessing for them. A lot were in shock that we were there to help, just help, for free because they were so used to being taken advantage of.” While not everyone was out to make a buck and many others came to donate their help, Freeman tells of potential looters arriving in boats only to be chased out by vigilant owners’ gunshots, and scammers claiming to be tree removers, without even a chainsaw, charging victims exorbitant prices to remove trunks and debris from houses. “A lot were there for money and were ripping people off, just trying to capitalize on a natural disaster,” he says with disgust. The Crested Butte group helped thwart some of that, intervening and removing trees before the swindlers arrived, making those scalawags pretty angry when they showed up and realized they had been outwitted—and for free. While FEMA and the Red Cross focused on rebuilding the infrastructure of gas, electric and roads on the demolished island neighborhood of Seaside Heights, and removing the hundreds of cars abandoned in the surge, Peter Maxwell said their crew worked in both the Tom’s River area as well as Seaside Heights. “We were in the trenches. It’s pretty heart-wrenching to see all that. To see these people lose everything they’ve ever worked for... gone. Nobody was there helping the residents. We were self-contained. We brought chain saws and generators and tools. They didn’t know whether they could trust us and then it was ‘Wow, what do you guys need?’ It was awesome,” he says of the change of heart once the residents realized the guys and the help were for real. Peter also realized that a small group of independents working together could have an immediate impact. “We can go help the individuals who are in need, who don’t have money or resources. It wasn’t about religion or gender or race or politics... the storm didn’t discriminate against anybody.” And he noted, “It speaks volumes of the camaraderie in Crested Butte. We’re pretty tight — we get through things together.” As for leaving our mountain village to travel to far-away coasts to help strangers, Peter confides, “It’s not always about what your comfort level is, going out to help somebody you don’t even know. I would not have done it on my own, but it was Kevin’s idea and we (the crew) may have been only acquaintances before but now we’re all friends. If I had any regrets it’s that we couldn’t stay longer and do more because there’s a lot more that’s needed. I think for the people that we touched, it will help break down the barrier,” he says of the mistrust between neighbors. The walls of suspicion were already beginning to tumble as people witnessed the kind acts of strangers and Kevin felt that their endeavors were giving hope, as he overheard a grandfather tell his grandson that it restored his faith in humanity after the crew helped them move their possesions out of their ruined house. Another family’s grandmother treated the boys to a large homecooked real-deal Italian meal after they cut down a tree for them. In the midst of chaos, the guys sat down in an Italian restaurant after an exhaustive day of work to be questioned about who they were and what they were doing. When they were overheard explaining their mission from Colorado, their dinner tab was quietly picked up by neighboring tables. Kevin is concerned about what happens next and how people will be able to put the shattered pieces of their lives back together, “Some people are just now being allowed back in some areas. It’s been two weeks and now the mold is taking over in houses, which will make people sick and is very expensive to remove. These people have lost everything. They don’t have anything,” he reiterates. “One woman we helped a couple days ago, a single mom with two kids, is now living at a lady’s house who goes to their church. She let them stay in a bedroom so they had a dry, warm room to sleep in. This woman cried on my shoulder and all I could tell her was that it was gonna be alright. When you see things like this, that’s when it really puts it into perspective.” After they were packed and ready to hit the road back home to Crested Butte last Sunday, on the way out of Tom’s River, Kevin made a stop at the church where he knew the single mother would be and handed her an envelope. He didn’t wait around for her to open it and find the generous cash donation that would help her and her two children through the hard times still ahead. “I prayed and God put it in my heart to give the money to this single mother. My prayer is that through all this, somebody sees that there is good and maybe it will restore their faith in humanity because as a society we’ve been caught up in the hustle-bustle of life where greed is a huge factor these days. But this is how it should be in the world. We should all be helping each other.”
How can Buttians help? Kevin suggests that you email or contact the city managers of towns like Rockaway Beach in New York and Seaside Heights, N.J. They know what’s needed most.