Greg and Karen Nixon are just regular Jersey folks. They love the summer, an occasional libation, and most of all, they love the great state of New Jersey. When Hurricane Sandy hit home, they didn’t wait for the feds to pick up the pieces. They jumped into action with a solid plan and goal of providing home rehabilitation assistance to families in dire circumstances, free of charge.
I spoke to Greg and Karen recently, and the first thing that hit me was the fact that here is this couple with nonexistent political influence, and no real money, and they’re making a difference every day through their own ingenuity and skills. It got me thinking that maybe if everyone reacted this way, we could really make a difference and get things back to normal in a much faster time frame. The forward motion example that the Nixons are demonstrating should be the motivation to carry the movement of support to each and every concerned citizen ready to step up and get this fixed.
As Greg states, “Our mission is to supply aid in any way we can to the families affected by this tragedy. We are completely self-supported and at this point have not received any federal or state relief funds. Nor have we applied for any grants. All monetary donations are used to purchase building materials while labor and services are donated and supplemented with volunteering. The organization also supplies NJ shelters with food, clothing, personal hygiene products and other items. The group also conducts toy drives, collects home furniture, assists in animal rescue missions and other recovery-related tasks. Helping Hands Of New Jersey is just getting started, and will continue to operate after it fulfills the needs of storm victims in future times of need.”
I asked Greg a few questions about Helping Hands Of New Jersey and the urgency that drives them to help.
So, you do your entire fund gathering by yourself. What is the overall reaction from people when it comes to asking them to help?
Up to this point, my wife Karen and I have come up with ideas to increase funds for materials. In addition, one of our sponsors, Motor Media, [plans] fundraising events. Lately, it’s been getting harder and harder to raise funds. When you have people who hear strong media attention saying, “We’re open!” “We’re back!” it sends the message that New Jersey is “fixed,” when in fact, only a small part is back. For instance, the Seaside Heights boardwalk is open, but you still have businesses closed and many families still not in their homes.
Are you just asking for money, or are there materials or supplies you’ll take?
We don’t just ask for money. We ask for anything that can help continue our journey in restoring hope to families and allowing them to feel whole again, for example legal services, accounting services, counseling services, building materials, gift cards, furniture, household items, new clothing, nonperishable foods, etc. When you can get your professional services for free and these other expenses donated for free, it helps alleviate some of the financial burden off the homeowners and allows them to get back into their homes much quicker.
What was the actual moment that you knew you would do this, and why?
I realized I wanted to get involved after meeting my first homeowner that was gutting her home by herself. After looking into someone’s eyes that have had everything stripped away from them it will affect you. I knew at that point I had resources and time that I could donate to help her. Having her home back together with her son for Christmas was a driving force for the next home.
What are the most severe horror stories that you’ve heard in the aftermath of Sandy?
I just heard one yesterday: A man left his home as instructed prior to the storm. When he returned, his home was destroyed. He received $4,000 from the insurance company and that was it. He didn’t have flood insurance. How do you replace your home on four grand? Interior furnishings and clothing for $4,000? That’s a horror story.
Without asking you to name names, unless you want to, are there still problems with dishonest organizations out there taking advantage of the people on the coast?
We really don’t want to get involved with the drama that’s out there. Drama costs the foundation money and precious time. Do it right, do it clean, and you don’t have an issue. You will always have jealous people saying something about what you do and when you do it, but oh well. The simplest thing I could say would be to lead, follow, or get out of the way.
When you’re not running HHONJ, what else do you guys like to do?
Karen and I enjoy riding our motorcycle, but John; you are never away from work when running a foundation. You may not physically be working at the job site, but it’s always on your mind. We are always on the phone. Even right now, it’s Sunday night and I’m working on bringing attention back to victims.
If you could make a request to the readers, what would you ask them for?
What I would request from the readers is to take a drive along the coast or through South River, South Amboy, and ask the questions, “Does this look fixed?” and “What could I do to help?” Go to our website, fill out a volunteer form, offer up some materials or gift cards, and donate your time or skill to make the magic happen.
To learn more about how to get involved with, or contribute to Helping Hands Of New Jersey, visit hhofnj.org.
This will be my last article on the topic of Hurricane Sandy. I want to thank all the great musicians, fans, residents and out-of-state contributors for their unity and concern. While others have delivered empty promises, marketing Band-Aids and endless red tape, the everyday people of the Garden State have kept the vision on the problem, and this is the proof that when we need to, we can come together and get the job done.