Most people know I was born and raised in New Jersey- I was even named after a town down the shore. My entire family is here, and I graduated from Rutgers University, the State University of NJ. Spending an incredible year as Miss NJ International 2010, and another amazing year as Miss NJ Galaxy 2011, NJ is my bread and butter. One week ago Hurricane Sandy viciously rolled in, and in the morning my world was barely recognizable.
As I watched TV in my condo Monday night, I thought I would be one of the fortunate ones- all our wires are underground. By 8:20pm I was left in complete darkness watching random flashes of blue and orange light in the sky. I lit candles, played a few games of Guess Who, then went to sleep cold and annoyed. I had no clue that the morning light would bring such pain. I woke up to several text messages from family, my parents and brother live on three acres surrounded by trees. My mom text me before 7am and said a tree fell on the house and destroyed a good part of it. I ran outside and saw branches everywhere, even on top of my car. My tire was flat, severely punctured from a branch- what a start to the day. After that mishap, I ignored the car damage, feared the worst and made my way to Warren Twp. I live 12 minutes away and it took an hour to get there- six detours later, and I finally found one road to get to my parent’s house. The neighborhood was surreal, like a war zone. Every single house had a tree on a car, or a tree on top of a house. Some had multiple trees down, crushing both their cars and houses. The street was filled with neighbors I have never even met before, as wires and transformers were strewn across yards and the street. People were crying and hugging, it was so overwhelming I don’t think anyone knew where to began. I felt so incredibly helpless when I saw my parent’s house- three giant trees down in the backyard, a fourth tree crushed the fence, and the largest fifth tree fell on the house, crushing the side of the house- the deck, siding, roof, doors, lights, you name it and it was in pieces. To see all their hard work sprawled everywhere was devastating. One of the saddest parts for me was that we had two birdhouses in the backyard. That morning we saw the birds flying around aimlessly, and realized their houses were now in the neighbor’s yard, absolutely destroyed.
I went back to my condo and packed a bag to head back to my parent’s house. My condo had no power and no hot water, and I did not want to be alone. My parents did not have power either, but at least they had hot water, and I wanted to be with my family during this time. The next 72 hours were a blur, it was impossible to leave the house and there was nowhere to go. Every food place was closed, most roads closed- we felt trapped. The nights grew colder and darker, and with gas impossible to find, having a generator was useless. It is too expensive to run, and once gas runs out, you wait in line for hours for more. By Friday, we were desperate for power- it wasn’t about TV, or having a computer- we wanted heat. With nothing to do but sit and think, I could not help but think of the others out there- several were better off and several worse off than us. We were going stir crazy, so were the kids in the neighborhood, as school is closed till at least next Monday. Then I started thinking- what about the families affected by Autism? Here we are shivering, and hungry- what about the families who can’t explain to their child what is going on? Suddenly my circumstances did not seem so bad. Children that are used to routine and schedules were suddenly put in such an uncomfortable and unpredictable situation. There is virtually nowhere for parents to even take their kids- and what if there is a medical emergency? Most doctor offices are closed, and hospitals were just getting power back Friday. Several of these children enjoy things like the iPad, iPod, and playing with the iPhone. With no power, we have to charge these devices in our cars- which takes forever. One of two days can be bearable- but today is day 7 and 775,000 people are still without power. JCP&L (the main power company) issued a statement today saying they “don’t know” when power will be restored to everyone. My parent’s town is looking at another 9 days without power, and it is only getting colder.
I have not even watched the news yet, and I don’t know what the rest of you are being shown. I just want to get the message across that we need desperately need help. People are getting stabbed and held at gunpoint for GAS. Generators and gas cans are being stolen at night, the looting is unreal. In the next few days, please think of the families affected by Autism, and special needs families in general. There are so many schools, programs, and nonprofits that have been destroyed. Most families did not think it would be this bad, and the lack of structure and routine is so hard on these kids. There are organizations who can help, and need your help as too! If you know a family affected by Hurricane Sandy, please let them know about these resources: http://www.lovethatmax.com/2012/11/disaster-relief-for-families-of-kids.html and of course Autism Speaks (I am blessed to be on the NJ Autism Speaks committee) is helping as well: http://www.autismspeaks.org/news/news-item/autism-speaks-responds-hurricane-sandy
This is not meant for pity. As you watch the news, please think of the families who are left with nothing and are trying to calm a child with Autism at the same time. They are trying to explain why everything that was once familiar is now gone. But most of all, be grateful for what you do have. Never did I think things like hot water and gas would be a “luxury”- they are now. For those of you who are affected by Autism, and are also dealing with the Hurricane Sandy aftermath, I know how tough and tiring it is right now. Rest assured, you are given tough situations because you’re strong enough to handle them. Keep the faith, be kind to each other, and together we will all rebuild.