Elenya and Matt Hulbert sat in their Florida home with power watching the devastation of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy unfold.
“My heart cried out what can we do to help,” Elenya Hulbert said. Eleyna Hulbert, originally of Cliffwood Beach, still has friends and family living throughout the region, including a brother in Toms River. The Hulbert’s moved to Zephyrhills, Florida in 1994.
“We didn’t lose power so we saw everything going on. We were concerned,” she said.
She added that seeing those damaged communities unite and garner support was “touching,” she said.
“I didn’t want to be one of those people who waited for others to help,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of the solution.”
Elenya and Matt Hulbert along with their sons Kyle, 11, and Austin, 9, put their lives on hold and traveled 1,100 miles and 18 hours to help New Jersey.
“It’s totally worth it. It seems insignificant to give anything up. It’s not a sacrifice,” she said.
As a member of New Walk Church, a parish that reaches out to those who are hurting, the family was inspired to help, she said. As a part of Celebrate Recovery, a ministry for those who are experiencing all types of hurt, the couple has seen people devastated and was drawn to help in New Jersey’s recovery process.
They started placing signs in businesses and drop boxes at schools. A notice was put out to all the students and after six days, a heap of items and supplies were collected.
“We were maxed out,” she said.
Clothing, cleaning supplies, food, wheel chairs, walkers, televisions, computers, money and more were donated. Even $1,800 towards traveling expenses was raised for the family, she said. Originally, the family was going to rent a U-Haul but needed a larger truck.
“When the truck filled up, I felt it was just a drop in a bucket,” she said.
The family will be dropping off items from the truck at the home of a Point Pleasant family that lost everything to “bless her,” she said.
Supplies will also be going to the Lacey United Methodist Church, the Silverton Fire Company and then up to the Union Beach area.
The family plans to determine the needs of the communities and distribute the donations appropriately, she said.
The Hulbert’s do not have a timetable and may stay after all items are distributed to help families in need, she said.
“We’re just going to trust God,” she said. “We’ll give help until God says leave.”
A storage unit in Florida is being used for more donations so the Hulbert’s may return to New Jersey in just a few months to continue to help, she said.
“We have a lot of ties in New Jersey,” she said, adding that after the storm she saw “where I grew up disappearing before (her) eyes.”
Living in Florida, the family has experienced hurricanes—including four that crisscrossed the state in 2004.
“Down there versus here, they’re are prepared for that,” said Matt Hulbert, who is originally from update New York. “Even though a lot (in Florida) were without power, here they’re still without power…Every summer we’re looking for a hurricane.”
Floridians have a “different perspective” and “more respect for the weather,” he said.
Denise McCallum finds the Hulbert’s “inspirational.” The family is currently staying at her home on Hollywood Boulevard.
“We didn’t know if we were going to have a home,” McCallum said with tears in her eyes. Living in close proximity to water, the family evacuated at 9 a.m. on Monday.
“The bay was already coming up,” she said. “(Eleyna) sent the most tender and reassuring messages.”
Concerned about the wellbeing of her family and home, McCallum was emotional. Then the power went out. Water came up around the house but did no damage.
“All I had were her messages. It kept me going…To give all that to me and then to organize this. It’s amazing,” she said, calling the couple “little angels.” “What their community has done for people they don’t even know, it’s such an amazing thing.”
McCallum and Liz Donahue assisted a friend in Mystic Island who had 4.5 feet of water in the home. They ripped dry wall, insulation, and flooring and then moved onto her friend’s neighbor’s homes.
“It’s the same stories but different people,” Donahue said.
They described an elderly woman that she assisted.
“She was so upset and trying so hard to stay strong…it’s like taking your whole house and throwing it to the front lawn,” McCallum said.
The elderly woman’s face lit up when they gave her a box to save some belongings and was thankful when they brought a pot of chicken noodle soup. The group sat at the dining room table with bread and soup.
“We said grace and thanked God,” McCallum said.
McCallum and Donahue are hoping people will continue to “pay it forward” as the devastation of Sandy continues to unfold. Even the littlest things such as banking cookies or transporting someone in need to the laundromat can help, they said.
“We just want them to know people do care,” Elenya Hulbert said of her family’s decision to drive down to New Jersey. “We just want to encourage them and let them know that God loves them. He will restore what’s happened to them. He does have a plan for their lives.”