Flagler County’s turnout in the election may not have been what it ought to have been. But the county’s turnout in generosity has been nothing short of overwhelming since a Palm Coast couple and WNZF sent out the call to help a New Jersey community ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
On Tuesday, Susan and Alan Wheeler, along with Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts, linked up live on WNZF with George Hoff, the mayor of Keansburg, N.J., and told him that plenty of help was on the way. (See the Nov. 6 story below.) The Wheelers, originally from New Jersey, had an empty truck they use for their business– A.W. Custom Kitchens in Palm Coast—and they pledged to fill it with emergency goods. Hofff was overwhelmed. The call went out on the radio station. People haven’t stopped responding since.
The first truck was filled rather fast. The second truck was more than half filled by this morning, and it looked like a third truck might be needed. The trucks are parked at Palm Coast Ford on Palm Coast Parkway.
“These guys are out of control,” Palm Coast Ford Sales Manager Paul Summa said this morning on his lot, as boxed, nags and loose goods were being organized and stacked in the second truck, a Penske rental. Summa was referring to the Wheelers. “They’re the best people I’ve met in Palm Coast, and I’ve met a lot of people. They came to me and they said, we’re having trouble with the city, parking our truck in the driveway. I said here, bring it to our dealership. We’ve got plenty of room for people pulling in and out. We’ve got plenty of coverage between the media friends that we have, everybody’s reached out, it’s just been an awesome thing for everybody. I can’t thank Palm Coast enough. I can’t think the media enough. And the Wheelers, they’re blessed people.”
Summa is originally from Staten Island, but he partied a lot on the Jersey shore, and took his family on vacation there this summer.
This morning Ayres broadcast Free for All Friday from the Palm Coast Ford lot too, with Netts, among many others. “Suddenly a lot of people who’ve never heard of Keansburg are hearing about it right here in Palm Coast,” Ayres said.
“I’ve got to tell you how pleased I am,” Netts said. “This is the Palm Coast and Flagler County community coming out, coming together and helping friends that we’ve yet to meet up in Keansburg New Jersey, who were just devastated by Hurricane Sandy. It’s just, it’s amazing to see the amount of turnout. When Priscilla and I were here a couple of days ago bringing our donation, there were people in line ahead of me, behind me, stuffing the truck, it’s great we’ve had to go to a second truck, and I’ll challenge Palm Coast and Flagler County: between now and 4 o’clock this afternoon, see if we can bring enough stuff that would require to take a third truck.”
They’ll take cash, too: the cost of driving up the A.W. truck up and back will be $1,000 just for fuel, Wheeler said. The Penske truck will cost about half that, because it’s a one-way rental. That’s $1,500 right there. But they’re still accepting goods of all sorts, and will be until about 5 p.m. this evening, possibly later. The Wheelers are planning on leaving at any time between 8 and 11 p.m. The 1,000-mile drive will take them up to 20 hours.
This morning a steady stream of donors kept driving in and dropping stuff off, like Gene Thrower, who brought coats, blankets, slippers and hygiene goods. “I feel sorry for those people. I had a beach home and just sold it this summer. Isn’t it something? In Delaware. But I have so many friends in New Jersey, that’s why.”
Alan Wheeler was jubilant. “We’re actually starting to get a lot more food, which we like,” he said. “We have a lot of warm clothing, we have some tools. We have some canned goods, dry goods, we’ve got books, we’ve got games for people. One of the last things I’m going to do at the end of the day, I forgot to do it this morning, I’ve got tons of DVDs, some I’ve never watched, so we’re going to bag them babies up and bring them down. I’ve got a DVD player, maybe the kids can sit around and watch some DVDs. I’m real pleased, real happy, and I’m extremely proud of our community. I didn’t think we were going to get the response we did, and they keep coming.”
As goods kept coming in, Wheeler and Ayers heard an idea and seized on it: rather than rent a third truck, pay that fare and its gas costs, what overflow of goods might be dropped off at Palm Coast Ford after the two trucks leave might instead be donated to Feed Flagler, the annual food and fund drive for Flagler County’s needy, led by Milissa Holland in the run-up to Thanksgiving.
It was possible, then, that Palm Coast Ford would remain a drop-off location until the week of Thanksgiving for that effort, combing contributions for a devastated community in New Jersey while remembering needs at home. When Holland heard of the possibility, she said she’d immediately call Wheeler, thank him, and coordinate matters from there.
The truck is prominently parked at Palm Coast Ford on Palm Coast Parkway, and when it drives off, more goods will be accepted to fill the truck again if possible, with a storage area being provided there until the truck returns. For more information, contact Alan Wheeler at 386/212-1106 or Susan Wheeler by email at [email protected].
Fill Up This Truck: Palm Coast Rallies to Help Hurricane Victims in Keansburg, N.J.
November 6–Keansburg, N.J., is a small town on the New Jersey shore, one of many overrun by the destructive ferocity of Hurricane Sandy. Its famous amusement park and shore attractions were demolished, and with it much of the town’s tourism industry. Two-thirds of the town remains without power. To put the destruction in perspective for Florida residents, Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts, himself a New Jersey native, put it this way: “Imagine if Central Florida got hit with a 2-foot snowsnortm. We’d be absolutely unequipped to deal with it.”
But towns and counties familiar with such events might come to Central Florida’s help–as Florida, familiar with the ruin of hurricanes, is now coming to New Jersey’s help.
A few days ago, Susan and Alan Wheeler, who’ve owned A.W. Custom Kitchens in Palm Coast since 1991, and who are originally from New Jersey, realized that they couldn’t look at scenes from the Northeast and stay idle.
“I have family up north, he has family up north,” Susan said. She was clicking through stories online about the devastation and the needs. “and it came through my Facebook, it was St. Mary’s that was reaching out for help–food, water, clothing, baby items.” St. Mary’s is a small township near Keansburg, which Susan’s husband remembers from his childhood. “My mom walked me down that boardwalk, and I walked my kids down that boardwalk,” Alan said. “It’s just a little sleepy little beach town you take the family to.”
They have a big box truck, sitting empty. They decided to fill it–with emergency goods needed in Keansburg, and drive it there as soon as it’s filled up. (It’s now at Palm Coast Ford, taking donations.) The needs include anything from diapers to bleach to socks, scarves, hats and toys to pillows, towels, toothbrushes, first aid kits, soap, shampoo, conditioners and many other basic hygienic necessities taken for granted in normal times, but in very short supply in the Northeast. (See the full list below.)
On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie singled out Keansburg Mayor George Hoff and the people of the his town for their resilience and resourcefulness in the wake of the storm, after he saw Hoff organize the town’s relief operations through Bolger Middle School, which remains without power. “What an incredible place, done all by you, for each other in a time of extraordinary crisis and challenge. I want to tell you this is one of the most inspirational things I’ve seen in the last week,” Christie told Hoff and his volunteers.
When WNZF General Manager David Ayres heard of the Wheelers’ plan, he decided to broaden the message. This morning, he got Hoff on the phone, live from Keansburg, along with Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts on another line. The Wheelers were in the studio, along with Milissa Holland, the county commissioner (and candidate for a Florida House seat), and two reporters.
The message to Hoff: more help is on the way.
The message to Palm Coast and Flagler County listeners: gather up at least one emergency item from your house–or buy it–and take it to the waiting truck at Palm Coast Ford, which the Wheelers hope will be filled up by week’s end for the drive to Keansburg.
Netts immediately conveyed his condolences and sympathies to Hoff’s community–which survived without loss of life, though Netts’s words went beyond life alone.
“I compare it to a title fight Mr. Netts. We got knocked down in the first round, but we’ve won the last nine rounds so far,” Hoff said.
“Wonderful,” Netts replied. “That’s the resilience of the American spirit. Congratulations with that. Anything we can do to help you, we’re certainly going to do.”
“It’s bringing me to tears that people as far away as Florida are as concerned about us New Jersey residents. Thank you for that,” Hoff said. The Keansburg mayor, speaking with modesty, preferred not to take credit for the relief effort he’d organized, crediting instead the residents of his town and neighboring towns, whom Keansburg is also helping. Hoff described himself as a high school social science
teacher: that’s actually his day job. But his concern and fortitude was apparent even though phone lines. “You sound like the kind of leader who’ll lead your community through this,” Netts told him.
Ayres then turned to Holland.
“We take it for granted so often and so much when we’re living in a comfortable situation, not recognizing what’s going on outside of our borders. And so this really is the true spirit of our community, it’s residents that step forward, understand the significance of coming together,” Holland said. “We have 98,000 residents in Flagler County, and wouldn’t it be great if each one of us went into our house today, or our garage, and just donated one or two pieces of things that are on the list, and brought it to this truck. It’s a great way of sharing. I know I’m going to be doing that today, and I’m going to be encouraging my neighbors to do it as well as those in the community to just go into your house, find things on the list, identify what you can donate or contribute, and bring it to the truck immediately. They really need our help.”