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Collingswood Pitches in with Storm Relief

A pair of entrepreneurs launch a T-shirt fundraiser for the Red Cross, while another resident organizes far-reaching material support for victims of the disaster.

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.

A. November 10, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Quite honestly I would be more apt to believe Diane's sincerity if she didn't feel the need to mention her "personal tragedies" EVERY SINGLE TIME she gets a chance. Why does she feel the need to bring this up now? To use this current tragedy as a foil for her personal ones, reeks of narcissism (her calling card quite honestly), and makes this effort seem nothing more than self-serving. I can't help but feel she plays the 'activist' card to gain notoriety, and nothing else, which is pretty gross. If anyone took 5 seconds to talk to her they would see this (trust me i have been forced to way more than 5 seconds, and it was painful). She plays on the heartstrings to appear compassionate, but really, she is selfish and narcissistic. Case in point: she has videos of extreme closeups of herself putting on lipgloss. Fascinating! And a self-made "fan" page on facebook. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Give me a break Diane, more people than you know see right through you.
Viola November 10, 2012 at 06:03 PM
What does it say about a person who would make a post like this at a time like this? Even if you were correct in your assessment, let's suspend reality for a second and pretend your delusions were real, what benefit would it do to victims of this current tragedy to try to cast a negative light on someone who is helping so many? Why bring in personal tragedy? I've got a quick answer, no greater heroes exist than those who have overcome personal tragedy and used their pain to try to take it away from others. From darkness comes much light if you can overcome it. All I can really say is WOW, you have shown me a new low in humanity and cynicism. Oh, and if you reply, I won't respond, we've already degraded this page enough. Truly, shame on you, miserable wretch.
Rob Burrough November 12, 2012 at 01:36 AM
A., you sound like a Diane-stalker. If you actually knew this woman, you would see that she truly cares about people. Maybe you do not agree with her politics, that is your right. But to think that she is helping people only to promote herself, is ridiculous.
Monko November 12, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Since you're too uptight to post an actual name, I think we can all agree what that "A." probably stands for. If your name is actually A., I apologize. It's that thing people do when they've made an A. of themselves in public, in broad daylight, by needlessly denigrating somebody who has worked their A. off to impose some order and compassion and serenity on this chaos some of us are living through. Are you not getting enough attention at home, A.? Try driving a couple of hundred miles delivering supplies to people who lost everything, I can assure you that they'll be a glad to see you, and really won't mind whether you sincerely care about them or if you're just an A.
Shannon McGill November 21, 2012 at 07:37 PM
I am just getting around to reading this article and I was shocked by A.'s vitriolic comments. I want to say something in defense of my dear friend, Diane. She is truly a kind, sensitive, generous soul. Maybe she brings up past tragedies in her life in this instance BECAUSE IT TOTALLY MAKES SENSE. It's called empathy. This lady has really been through the wringer in life and that's what inspires her to work so hard on behalf of others. Also, maybe Diane is narcissistic, but it's because she's beautiful and great. She really is. When you hang out with her, she makes you feel special and that's what people love about her. Quit hating on people who are doing good things, A. Whether they're narcissists or not. How does that help anything? Go get yourself a drink and calm down, dude.

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