OceanFirst Foundation’s Kathy Durante Considers Ongoing Shore Recovery Needs

This is the second in a six-part series about long-term recovery from Hurricane Sandy. In it Kathy Durante, Executive Director of the OceanFirst Foundation, shares her thoughts.
OceanFirst Foundation makes its home in Toms River, New Jersey and OceanFirst Bank has served the Jersey shore markets of Ocean and Monmouth Counties for more than a 100 years.
So when Superstorm Sandy made landfall and left a devastating impact in so many of our coastal communities, I knew quickly that we would need to have a role in both the immediate relief and long term recovery efforts.
To put the destruction in our area in perspective, 66% of the total $392-plus million spent by FEMA in New Jersey for Housing and Other Needs assistance in the six months following Sandy was spent in Ocean and Monmouth Counties (as of 5/1/13).  Like many, our Foundation was challenged in the days following Sandy with no power and access to the tools typically used in the course of business.
So it was no easy task to reach out to our network of grantees and community partners that we knew people would turn to for help, just to see if they were okay and operational. In the days following, we worked hard to mobilize our resources to help long-time grantees – key anchor organizations – that we knew had the capacity to address the most basic urgent needs.  This required great flexibility and a simplification of our usual grant making process.
Within weeks, we provided the seed funding for and worked with County government to host the first gathering of 150 community leaders and citizens from all sectors and neighborhoods to begin talking about and working on our path to recovery. From this dialogue, the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group (OCLTRG) evolved with a mission of strengthening and streamlining disaster coordination.  We continue to support the work of the OCLTRG and are currently providing the group with grant writing and development/fundraising support to ensure that they have resources at their disposal to address the unmet needs of those impacted.
We’ve been very fortunate to have Nina Stack and her great team at the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers supporting philanthropy’s response in the state. We worked closely with the Council to organize a daylong tour of disaster-affected shore communities with speakers crossing all sectors. T his helped inform members of the incredible challenges and issues that lie ahead in recovery and helped jump start conversations about how members could be a part of the State’s recovery.
We’ve also responded to inquiries from philanthropic organizations across the country about local needs, potential partners and have been pleased to help with match-making that has brought millions of dollars and resources (I stopped counting) to the shore for recovery.  These are the bright spots.
Those of you that have found yourself or your organization in the bull’s-eye of a disaster zone probably know all too well that the path to recovery is fraught with obstacles and each day can deliver a new twist.When I think back to this time last year, all thoughts were on Memorial Day – the kickoff to summer, friends and family visiting, spending long days at the beach and strolling the boardwalk at night. Today its V-Zones, VOAD, FEMA, and flood maps, things I never imagined would cross paths with the work of our Foundation.
We’re learning right alongside our neighbors and we’re going to be here as long as it takes for our shore to recover.  Our friends, customers, colleagues and community are counting on us.

Kathy Durante

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