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Call for insulation leads to full house repairs in New Jersey

The FordsWhen Hurricane Sandy hit last October, it wrecked the first floor of Bobby and Patty Ford’s Union Beach home.
Since then, they’ve been living upstairs and eating meals out because they have no kitchen. Photo by Bill Moriarty

By Phil Kloer

All Patty Ford wanted was some insulation, the next necessity in the long, long process of repairing her hurricane-ravaged home in Union Beach, New Jersey.

But when she called Habitat for Humanity for help, she got a lot more.

In October, volunteers with the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project are heading to her house to put it right: the walls, the floor, the kitchen, the bathroom, the paint — everything.

“I don’t know where we would be right now without Habitat,” Ford said.

She and her husband, Bobby, a stonemason, didn’t know whether to evacuate or hunker down as Hurricane Sandy barreled toward the shore of their small, working-class town in October 2012. The New Jersey natives were reluctant to abandon the only home they had ever owned.

“We weren’t going to leave,” she recalled. “I even went to the store to get food. I was kind of nervous, asking people if they were going to leave.” 

On the morning of Oct. 29, as landfall approached, they went to the beach eight blocks from their home and saw the height of the waves. They knew what to do then. They packed a suitcase, loaded their black Labrador, Max, into the car, and drove inland to stay with friends.

Patty and Bobby FordBobby and Patty Ford are looking forward to having a downstairs again.

‘Everything was gone’

Over that day and night, more than 60 homes in Union Beach were wiped away, and hundreds more were severely flooded. In New Jersey alone, Hurricane Sandy killed 37 people, destroyed or damaged nearly 350,000 homes, and caused about $30 billion in economic losses.

After the storm passed, Patty Ford said, “People were just walking around crying ’cause their homes were gone. All their belongings, their clothing — everything was gone. A lot of trees down. Boats where they shouldn’t be.”

The Fords were luckier than some, but they were still hit hard. A burst pipe flooded their kitchen and downstairs bathroom, buckling the floor. Outside walls were standing but damaged. They decided they could live on the upper floor and not use the kitchen until it was fixed. But as they began the long process of restoring their lives, they learned their insurance payment wasn’t nearly enough to cover repairs. They took out a loan to buy supplies. Bobby worked six days a week, at his job and on the house. Patty is on Social Security disability.

In April, their dog died at the age of 13. And in July, Bobby had a heart attack. When he came home from the hospital to recuperate, the Fords missed having a kitchen even more: “Without a kitchen to cook in, it’s hard,” Patty said. “We have to eat all our meals out.”

“Our lives were just upside down. Between the house, his heart attack and everything, our lives were just so messed up it’s not even funny.”

‘We were on our way’

The Fords’ lives started to turn around when an electrician working on their home suggested they call Habitat for Humanity of Monmouth County, New Jersey, to ask for some insulation. Although she was doubtful, Patty gave it a try and got longtime Habitat volunteer Terese Davis on the phone.

After she heard the Fords’ story, Davis urged them to apply for more Habitat assistance. In Sandy’s aftermath, Habitat for Humanity International, along with local affiliates, had pledged a multiphase response to the disaster. Comprehensive help was available, Davis said.

“We were very hesitant to do it,” Patty said. “I said, ‘No, there’s so much going on.’ She was like, ‘Please come, please come.’ I really wasn’t going to. All I was calling for was insulation. And two days later, two guys from Habitat came and were measuring for sheetrock, and we were on our way.”

Soon the Fords’ house was added to the list of about 15 houses that will be repaired or built in Union Beach during the 30th Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project.  

“It’s so strange how things work out,” Patty said. “Thank God Habitat for Humanity has been willing to help us. I don’t know what we’d do without you.”