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Hope being restored to New Jersey families

BY DANIEL R. GANGLER | BOUND BROOK, NEW JERSEY | November 2, 1999

BOUND BROOK, NEW JERSEY (Nov. 2, 1999) -- Hope is being restored amid chaos caused by September flooding that displaced more than 6,000 people in the boroughs of Bound Brook, South Bound Brook, and Manville.

The Rev. Louis Kilgore, pastor of Bound Brook's Presbyterian Church, is leading efforts to organize a flood recovery coalition of 25 faith and community groups.

"When disaster strikes, it's the faith community that instills hope and takes

the lead," said Kilgore.

Month-long recovery efforts have led to a new nonprofit organization called We Will Rebuild, Inc. that will help restore this devastated watershed on the Delaware and Raritan Canal. The fledgling organization elected Kilgore president and interim executive director.

Already, We Will Rebuild has served 15,000 hot meals, delivered six tons of non-perishable food, matched 200 families to house those driven out of their homes, and provided legal services for hundreds of undocumented immigrants, most from Costa Rica. The group also has provided transportation to more than 400 families who lost their cars, and has coordinated child care services so parents can clean their homes.

We Will Rebuild continues to help meet survivors' emergency needs for items such as stoves and prescription medicine.

The most difficult part of flood relief efforts in these three boroughs stems

from the fact that most of the 700 families rescued from the rooftops of their homes were undocumented immigrants living in rental property. Because of their legal status, they are ineligible for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). There is an acute housing shortage in flood-ravaged Somerset and Middlesex Counties, 25 miles southwest of Newark.

Kilgore said only a faith-based community effort can minister to the problems

of this displaced immigrant population, because the immigrants have an understandable distrust of government agencies.

"We are working with lawyers and the federal immigration agency seeking

justice for these people. We don't know their numbers, but they were great enough to bring the President of Costa Rica to Bound Brook just nine days after the floods to comfort his people," said Kilgore.

The local economy depends upon these people who make up a large part of the

area's service industry, working in hotels and restaurants, or for lawn-care companies and other service businesses.

To a great extent, We Will Rebuild has become the recovery umbrella coordinating the work of the American Red Cross, FEMA, county government, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Church World Service, Lutheran Family Services, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Mennonite Central Committee, and United Way. Corporate sponsors such as AT&T are also contributing to the effort. AT&T employees have spent more than 1,200 volunteer days in the area already.

Organizing into one group leads to more efficient use and fair distribution of funds, said Kilgore. We Will Rebuild has disbursed $300,000 to aid flood victims, as well as $130,000 worth of vouchers from Catholic Charities redeemable at grocery stores, pharmacies, and general merchandise stores.

Kilgore said he believes that the faith community has taken a lead. "We had to lead. There was so much disorganization and chaos.

"Our town is inundated with despair. People of faith have affirmed the community and wish to maintain the integrity of our community."

A Mennonite volunteer group is renovating We Will Rebuild's new headquarters in downtown Bound Brook. Kilgore said he believes the building's central location will give a spiritual boost to its community.

"We are in this for the long haul," said Kilgore. Soon the relief group will hire a full-time executive director and two other coordinators to continue the work of the group. Being downtown is important to Kilgore, because that location becomes a symbol of hope to area businesses that are relying on the comeback of flood-torn downtown areas.

As of Oct. 14, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) had distributed 14,159 applications for its low-interest loans statewide. Yet only 1,422 home owners and 385 business owners throughout New Jersey have submitted applications for those loans. Survivors have until Nov. 16 to register their losses with FEMA and qualify for a loan, according to spokeswoman Colleen Hiam.

So far the Small Business Administration has signed off on a total of 259

loans. They went to 207 homeowners and renters for $6.8 million and to 52

businesses for $2.45 million, Hiam said.

The counties of Bound Brook and Somerset are jointly seeking state money to fund a study on rebuilding the downtown area. The borough and county are seeking $65,000 from the state Department of Community Affairs and more from private sources to fund the $100,000-plus study.

Bound Brook Mayor Frank Gilly reported last week that his borough received its first check from FEMA for $325,000 to pay for expenses incurred during the storm.

Posted Nov. 2, 1999


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