For Diane Fornbacher, seeing the mass devastation wrought by Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy is what started it.
“I don’t become numb to those things,” she said. “Every time I see it, it’s always like the first time.”
When the initial storm warnings broke, Fornbacher, who describes herself as a newshawk, was “in a mad rush” to prepare her home for its effects. “I saw the projections,” she said. “I was scared to death for my own family.”
In light of the damage sustained by a town like Atlantic City or Staten Island, Collingswood escaped, comparatively unscathed. But Fornbacher had still collected a pile of provisions that would go unused in her household.
Maybe it was because the destruction had bypassed her family; maybe it was remembering what life had been like in fragile moments of her young adulthood. But Fornbacher was floored by the images of the waterlogged Jersey shoreline that came pouring in from various media.
She needed an outlet for that anxiety, needed to do something. She didn’t have a lot of money to donate to relief efforts, but what she did have was a pile of survival items—and a house with electricity, heat and running water.
“Most people, that’s not enough for them to get up off the couch,” said her husband, Terry Wall. “Diane is the type of person who will take it from an idea to fruition.
“There should be more people doing things like that,” he said.
People living in the dark
Instead of squirreling away her cache for the next disaster, Fornbacher resolved to get it into the hands of families who needed it sooner.
So Monday, she will load up a car full of provisions and care packages and head for a storm shelter along the coast.
“Sometimes it’s hard for people to conceptualize that something couldn’t happen to them because it hasn’t happened yet,” she said.
“Some people will be without power for two weeks. The things they’ve hoarded could go to people living in the dark—literally.”
Fornbacher pointed out also that victims of the devastation were not necessarily unprepared, either. The suddenness of Sandy’s onset left many people unable to find goods to buy.
“A lot of stores ran out of perishable foods,” she said. “Some people were relying on being able to treat their water by boiling it; some don’t even have access to water.”
Almost immediately, Fornbacher said, Collingswood pitched in. As of Friday evening, her home was starting to fill with the care packages she’d assembled, and there was more on the way.
Some people offered gas cards; some were fundraising through their churches. A woman she’s never met is driving down from Ohio this weekend with donations pooled from her neighbors.
“Throughout my life, I have suffered a couple of tragedies,” she said. “It was wonderful for people to contribute to lightening the load.
“That’s one of the things that I wanted to bring home to people.”
'We're going to come back stronger'
Meanwhile, across town, Lil’ Diesel apparel brand co-owner Jen Hilgenberg had the same reaction watching the news pour in from the shore towns where she spent her youth.
Since Sandy hit, her family in Hunterdon and Somerset counties have been without power. And she knows well that the impact of the storm has reached far beyond even there, to Connecticut and New York.
Lil’ Diesel is an imprint that’s designed to respond to circumstances like this. In an age of quick-turnaround printing, the branding and apparel business offers the almost-immediate gratification that Hilgenberg and her business partner, Mindy Leher, could leverage to make a difference.
They paired up on a T-shirt design they’ve dubbed “Restore the Shore,” and are donating to the Red Cross 100 percent of all profits generated from its sale after costs.
Originally, orders were to be filled Nov 16; now the duo thinks the first run will be printed Monday.
At $20 apiece, they’d already sold some 213 shirts between 4:30 p.m. Thursday and lunchtime Friday. In the first 15 hours, orders were pouring in from all over the country, St. Thomas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, all from social media sharing.
“We’re getting orders every couple minutes coming in,” Hilgenberg said. “We know how much we’re helping [by] how our phone goes off, every time an order goes off.
What are people responding to? Hilgenberg thinks it’s the Jersey mentality.
“You can hit us, knock us down, but we’re going to come back stronger,” she said.
“This fight is coming from all of us.”
Want to help? You can make donations in person all weekend at Fornbacher's house (113 Arlington Ave.) or Tricia Burrough's house (510 Cedar Ave.)
To buy a Restore the Shore T-shirt, click here.