One week after Hurricane Sandy destroyed much of the New Jersey coastline and only hours after power was restored to the NJFMBA State office, I received a phone call from a Mississippi businessman who had remembered New Jersey firefighters and the playgrounds we had built there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Billy Lamb explained to me that the community of Waveland and Bay St. Louis Mississippi were collecting Christmas gifts for New Jersey children affected by the storm in an effort to “pay it forward” to those who had showed such kindness to them in their hour of need.
A trailer containing over 1,000 wrapped Christmas toys arrived from Mississippi on December 22nd and was distributed by volunteer fire departments throughout the Bay Shore communities in Monmouth County.
The gesture from Mississippi was an absolute spiritual “shot in the arm” for the NJFMBA and the hundreds of members who had been serving the coastal communities in New Jersey for the past 6 weeks in every capacity imaginable. Unfortunately, just as our members and their families were starting to get their second wind and make some sense out of the Jersey disaster, the unspeakable massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Town, Connecticut was reported to the country.
A horrified country brought to a standstill with the realization that innocent children and teachers were gunned down while conducting what should have been any normal, routine Elementary School day. The understanding that this could have happened any where in America and to any one of our children or grandchildren was almost too terrifying to comprehend. Many of us walked around in a daze and were saddened to such a degree that we could only go through the motions of work or politics or social schedules.
How could this happen? How can this be prevented in the future? Who really is to blame? What can we do about it? All of the above questions will no doubt be debated for years to come.
Here at the NJFMBA, like everywhere else, we struggle to be productive and helpful and advocate for firefighters and their families, while supporting countless communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Under the leadership of Vice-President Bob Brower and Northern District Vice-President Herman Peters, the NJFMBA continued to help storm victims despite the depressing and demoralizing news coming out of New Town, Connecticut.
For days we struggled with what we should or could do to make a difference or at least focus our energies in some productive and meaningful way. The call and news video from Mississippi regarding the playgrounds we had built almost seven years ago gave us the idea of what we needed to do.
The idea; the Sandy Ground Project, Where Angels Play
Since we built three playgrounds in the gulf in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it is only natural that we should build some playgrounds here in New Jersey for our own communities. Not only in New Jersey, but in New York and Connecticut who were also devastated by Hurricane Sandy. In addition, in an effort to honor and provide a lasting and living memorial to the 20 children and 6 teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we should build 26 playgrounds and dedicate each one to each of those slain.
26 playgrounds all along the coast of three States built by firefighters, police officers, teachers and support staff, and volunteers in an attempt to connect two tragedies that eerily share the same name in a way that people can never forget. Perhaps each playground can reflect the personality of the teacher or child for whom it would be named. A project that would only be done with the approval of the families of those lost.
This project is estimated to cost somewhere between 1.8 million and 2 million dollars. I must have asked twenty individuals within the association as well as outsiders as to whether this idea was crazy and whether it could be done. The answer each and every time was not only could it be done, but rather it can and must be done.
So that only leaves one question, Who’s In??