Community Comes Together to Help Families Return Home Three Years After Sandy

By Brenda Flanagan

“It was amazing. I walked in and I said, ‘I’m home!'” said Shaun Keefe.

Keefe is utterly ecstatic. The community gathered to welcome his two sisters, mom and grandmother back home to Belmar today.

“Sunday dinners, hanging out, enjoying a movie, that’s all we could ask for,” he said.

“I went and checked in on every one of my kids and they were sound asleep, all comfy cozy in beds. I love it. I absolutely love it,” mom Teresa Keefe said.

After spending three years couch-surfing with relatives in Lakewood, commuting daily to school in Belmar, the sixth grader and his family finally moved into their new home, rebuilt from scratch, after Sandy destroyed their old house and sent them fleeing for their lives.

“I mean, I stepped off the porch, and the water was up to here. It was like unbelievable! But, we made it,” said Isabella Roberts.

NJTV News last visited the Keefe family in August, when Teresa had just refiled her FEMA claim after battling the insurance company. Neither offered enough money to get them home. So, the whole community, led by Mayor Matt Doherty, stepped in and raised $240,000 for the two displaced Belmar families and donated the driveway, roof, siding, sheet rock, counter tops and labor. They got checks from strangers in Illinois.

“And without that, these families would not have been able to be back home, where they really need to be. I think it’s an indication that we really need to start doing something,” Doherty said.

So far, New Jersey’s disbursed about $660 million in federal money for reconstruction, rehabilitation, remediation and elevation of Sandy-damaged homes. The state says 8,000 homeowners remain in the program, 4,500 applicants have withdrawn and almost 2,000 have completed reconstruction, including Krista Sperber. Hers is the second Belmar family that accomplished the task only with community support.

“My lights are on. All our stuff is moved in,” Sperber said.

For all her happiness, she says, “There’s thousands of families that aren’t home. Not everybody was lucky. If you can call me lucky after three years, not everybody was fortunate enough to have a mayor like Matt to stand up and get a way to get around this.”

“Even with all those efforts there still needs to be private help in many cases, even three years later,” said Congressman Frank Pallone.

Senator Robert Menendez urged any homeowners who hadn’t refiled a FEMA claim to call his office.

“While FEMA’s Oct. 15 to enter this review is past, my belief is that there is no shot clock on justice,” Menendez said.

“Here I feel safe. I feel, I feel amazing,” Keefe said.

So, with Sandy’s third anniversary only days away, two more families will be home. However, so many other victims remain displaced, struggling with their own storms of red tape.