It’s no secret that after Hurricane Sandy many New Jerseyans are in need of help to rebuild destroyed or damaged homes. New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie has helped to create the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund to fill the financial gap left by insurance companies and FEMA. Christie told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that donations have been pouring in from thousands of donors.
Christie said a few days after the hurricane hit, the governor called her, saying they had to do something and he was going to put her in charge of creating a 501(c)(3). The relief fund was created and has successfully been taking in money since.
“We’ve had tremendous outpouring from all over the country,” she said. “I got on the phones quickly and we also have our website which has taken in probably close to a million and a half dollars, all from individuals donating $50 and $100. You get the big checks once in a while too out of there, but what’s remarkable is that we have over 7,000 online donors.”
The purpose of the money raised is to assist hurricane victims beyond the money they receive from insurance and FEMA. “When you have a disaster like a hurricane, the victims will get FEMA checks and they’ll get their own insurance checks and then there will be a huge gap between what insurance covers and what FEMA covers,” Christie said. “So to help these people rebuild their homes and rebuild their lives we are going to focus on gap funding.”
Christie explained that organizers of the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund consulted with people who went through hurricanes in Florida and Hurricane Katrina and realized gap funding was a real need.
The goal is to start dispersing the money quickly. Christie said the group is looking to create long-term voluntary recovery teams in various counties. She said another goal is to encourage the use of mental health services.
“There are wonderful state agencies and federal agencies and non-profits that provide great services but sometimes people are afraid to go seek the services out so that’s an area that I’m going to encourage people on the front end to take care of because our experts in Katrina and some of the other hurricanes found that this was an area where people post mortum realized that they were so depressed,” Christie said. “Domestic violence goes up, suicide rates go up, so we’re going to try to get people or encourage people to do that on the front end.”
Christie said she knew early on that the damage was severe after hearing from the governor Tuesday morning after the hurricane hit when he was surveying the damage. She said he worked 16 to 18 hours per day and came home exhausted, both physically and emotionally.
The destruction of parts of the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore is disturbing for many. “The boardwalk is I think so ingrained in so many New Jerseyans,” Christie said.
During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy the governor directed some of his comments to children, encouraging them to speak with adults and encouraging adults to have conversations about the storm and its aftermath with children. Christie said she and her husband have spoken with their children often. During the storm, the Christie family was driving because the governor was doing his radio show that night. Christie said her children were extremely nervous about the drive particularly because of all the downed trees they saw. She also mentioned a tragic accident in their home town of Mendham where two people were killed by a tree that fell on their pickup truck.
“There’s no doubt there’s been a lot of conversations about storms and trying to make sure children knew that there were adults around to keep them safe,” Christie said. “I think it is important now and certainly was important during the storm.”