During the first week of November, 2012 Tim Mills was alone working on cleaning up what remained of his Union Beach home. He was making very little progress. His home was badly damaged and he felt there was no way possible for his family could return to the shambles or overcome the devastation. “I was in a very dark and desperate place emotionally that day, ” Mills recalled.
Mills noticed a group of at least 20 men and women walking down the street, approaching his home. He was scared, fearing they were looters coming to steal what little he had left. One of the group pulled the family’s American flag from the muddy debris that used to be the front lawn.
“Who the hell are you?” Mills shouted at the group. “We are from RAINE. We here to help,” the team leader responded. Mills stood in silence as the man, a U.S. Marine, who pulled his flag out of the mud draped it over the furniture that was drying out on his lawn.
“It was at that point that I didn’t feel alone or lost any more. I felt like somehow, we were going to be OK. That team saved my life that day.”
Mills donated his flag to RAINE (Reaching All In Need Everyday). Since then the volunteers that lead the non-profit have put the flag on tour as a symbol of leadership, perseverance and strength in the face of adversity.
The first stop on the tour was Jackabob’s in Union Beach. Owner Gigi Liaguno-Dorr and her team sprung to action in the aftermath of Sandy, organizing food and clothing donations and helping to direct daily recovery activities as her neighbors struggled through the months after the storm. The flag hung in the new Jackabob’s which was decorated by doors from Union Beach homes until July of last year. (Liaguno-Dorr closed her restaurant last month. Her insurance company, Lloyds of London offered to pay her less than $10,000 on a $1,2 million policy and she does not qualify for assistance from the NJ EDA because she is suing Lloyd’s, according to The Asbury Park Press)
Buhler Automotive in Hazlet was the second stop of the RAINE American Flag Tour.
Five months before Sandy struck, Memorial Day Weekend of 2012, the car dealership was burned to the ground. In the aftermath of Sandy, Buhler’s management and employees volunteered with RAINE; helping Bayshore residents clean out their homes, delivering meals and clothing. providing whatever was needed. Upon the dealerships opening of its new facility, the flag was hung prominently in the showroom.
Senator Joe Kyrillos’s new legislative office at 10 Highway 35 is the new temporary home of the the flag. The foundation’s leadership presented the flag to Kyrillos during a ceremonial unveiling yesterday afternoon as an acknowledgment of his mentorship, volunteerism, advocacy and support. Kyrillos participated in the Sandy Ground project in Union Beach, getting his hands dirty as a volunteer. He volunteers in the foundation’s annual Thanksgiving food deliveries and Holiday gift giving program. To date he has avoided dressing up as Santa for the group, but they are hopeful for this year.
“RAINE is the ideal citizens’organization here for the people of our area,” said Kyrillos. “They do great herculean work and are a model for other civic groups all around this region, the state, and this country.”
“I can’t imagine that anything is as meaningful to me as receiving this American flag and what it represents. I love it for what it stands for; I love it as a work of art. I especially love that it is muddied and gnarled and went through this storm that tested us all.”
The RAINE (Reaching All In Need Everyday) Foundation was conceived in 2001 by Patti and Matt Dickens of Hazlet. In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorists attacks, the Dickens encouraged their son and other children of the community to support two young twins who had lost their mother in the attack on the World Trade Center. The young students at Raritan High School held a toy drive, dressed their principal as Santa and held an event for the family. The following year, on their own initiative, Raritan students held their own toy drive and called Patti to inform her that they had two classrooms full of toys to be distributed to children in need. Initially caught of guard, Patti and Matt procured a Santa suit, identified families in need, and recruited volunteers to help deliver the toys.
Recognizing the need, and the opportunity to contribute, the Dickens organized RAINE first as a New Jersey non-profit and then later as a 501(c)(3). They hold annual Thanksgiving meal deliveries and Holiday gift drives for needy children.
The day before Sandy hit, Patti was volunteering at Beers Street School which was a transfer station for evacuees being transported from the Bayshore to shelter at Monmouth University. Patti told Hazlet Township’s Administration and OEM officials to contact her if they needed anything. The day after the strom, the OEM coordinator knocked on her door and asked her to set up at Beers Street School to feed first responders.
The project expanded rapidly beyond feeding first responders to meeting the needs of the Bayshore, especially Union Beach. Food and clothing donations where delivered from all over the country. Nothing was turned away. “An army of volunteers showed up,” Patti said. Volunteers were dispatched to help residents at their homes and RAINE delivery 20,000 meals per day, for 12 days after Sandy.
RAINE has no employees and no administrative costs. It is governed by a 16 person volunteer Board. If you would like to ge involved as a volunteer or leader of RAINE, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org