'Overwhelming' generosity helps post rebuild

Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast with a vengeance last fall. No fewer than 125 lives were lost. Approximately 72,000 homes and buildings were badly damaged or destroyed in New Jersey alone. Three American Legion posts were hit. But thanks to efforts from multiple entities, one Legion post that bore the brunt of the storm has taken big strides toward returning to its pre-disaster form.

Post 143 in Highlands, N.J., was under five feet of water after Sandy rolled through New Jersey last fall. All that remained of the post was, in Post Commander Donald "Bunky" Hill’s words, "some walls, and that’s about it."

But thanks to the generosity of Legion posts across the country, help from both the Department of New Jersey and The American Legion National Emergency Fund, and generous contributions from other entities, Post 143 has been partially rebuilt. Sears and Sherwin-Williams have provided assistance. And this weekend, with help from Rebuilding Together and Comcast, even more work will be completed.

On Saturday morning, Comcast and the volunteer group Rebuilding Together – along with Rebuilding partners HGTV, the DIY Network and Comcast – will complete interior renovations on the post’s community hall, including reframing, drywalling, electrical upgrades, new ceiling tiles, interior and exterior paint, landscaping and other repairs.

Post 143’s members have donated their own time to complete repairs to Post 143’s social club so the post of approximately 100 members could get back to generating some revenue. Contributions from the National Emergency Fund and the Department of New Jersey, as well as donations from other Legion posts, made this renovation possible. Post 143 reopened up for business exactly 143 days after Sandy struck.

"We didn’t have flood insurance, and even though we did have money in the bank, there’s no way we could have done all this without the help we got from other posts," Hill said. "You can’t believe all the people who stepped up to help. It was pretty overwhelming. People are pretty terrific, I’ve got to say."

Jason Scott, Post 143’s second vice commander, emailed American Legion posts along the East Coast – not to ask for money, but simply to ask for any excess pots, pans, toasters and other items that the posts might not be using any longer.

"We lost everything," Scott said. "The response we got was pretty amazing. We got a crock pot from Boca Raton (Fla.). We got $1,000 from a post in Canton, Ohio. It was, as Bunky said, "pretty overwhelming."

Immediately after Sandy hit, Post 143’s members didn’t focus on rebuilding. Rather, they set up a tent and served hot meals to other Sandy victims, as well as serving as a clothing drive distribution point. "That’s what the Legion does," Hill said. "That’s what you have to do."

Department of New Jersey Commander Gene O’Grady will be at Post 143 Saturday to present it with checks totaling $7,100 from the NEF and the department. And NBC’s Today Show will be in New Jersey Saturday and may include a stop at Post 143 for part of the morning program. Check the Legion’s national Twitter feed on Saturday for updates.

National Emergency Fund

When natural disasters like tornadoes, floods or wildfires strike, The American Legion’s National Emergency Fund swiftly delivers needed money to veterans in their communities.