September 11th

As we recently passed the 19th anniversary of the horrible events of 9/11 it triggered those painful personal memories of that day. What stood out though in my thoughts was the remembrance I had of the collected effort that came about as this disaster unfolded.

I was in my condo in Sea Bright on that beautiful crystal clear day when the horror unfolded. I had just got back from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard the day before and was slowly unpacking and had the TV on in the background. About an hour after the second tower fell my friend Dennis McGinnis called me and said that we needed to coordinate some type of rescue help.

He called SeaStreak Ferries who provided boats to Manhattan daily out of Atlantic Highlands and Highlands; they became supply boats and people movers. I called all the radio stations in Central Jersey, all of them and we put out over the airwaves what was needed as it was relayed to me. It was a collaboration that streamlined the information and getting the word out on the immediate need.

A triage area was set up, we got medical supplies and blankets, booties for the dogs that would be looking for bodies on the hot melted steel of what was the Trade Center, and we needed cases of water to wash the debris off those who were close to ground zero. Dennis manned the SeaSteak port in Atlantic Highlands and the minute we needed something, I relayed the message and it showed up. It was an amazing show of coordination, support, compassion, strength and resilience. Area first responders came in droves to the ports to accept the injured and traumatized. This went on for days. There wasn’t a hesitation, it all came together as best as it could. It was Jersey strength at its finest.

Big Joe as Santa - Townsquare Media

Hurricane Katrina Relief

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 it decimated the Gulf Coast some 1300 miles from New Jersey. Just because something terrible happens somewhere else doesn’t mean that New Jersey will just stand by and do nothing.

Shortly after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast I was on vacation with friends at Martha’s Vineyard. We were sitting around that September afternoon thinking that those poor kids of the Gulf Coast won’t have a Christmas. How will those kids get presents? Well this didn’t take long, one of the people on vacation my friend and musician Pat Guadagno, says “Why don’t we collect some toys and go down there?” So the six of us grabbed our cell phones and we went to work.

Thanks to our radio station New Jersey 101.5 we organized six mall toy drives in October and November. We thought if we collected about 5,000 toys that would be a great number and we could make a good thing happen for the kids of the Gulf Coast. I did six live broadcasts from six different malls in Jersey, people came out to donate toys, and we collected 80,000 toys! An amazing display of help.

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Lowes Moving here in Jersey donated hundreds of boxes and provided storage until we could load up two tractor trailers which were donated. My friends Doug and Denis Gallagher lent us a tour bus, trailer and driver Bo, from Coast Cities, paid for the gas and tolls, our friend Linc made a Santa land that would rival Disney, my tailor Michael Duru in Shrewsbury made me a world class Santa suit, complete with cell phone pocket and silk lined. United donated airline tickets to get our volunteers down there, Marriott donated rooms for us. Pat Guadagno set up places to distribute toys and Santa land for the kids.

From Lulling, to New Orleans, Louisiana to Gulfport Mississippi. We distributed every one of those toys. We went to an Air force base, gymnasiums, halls and schools. Over 3500 kids sat on my lap as I played Santa. The New Jersey State police gave us an escort to the state line and coordinated assistance from the Louisiana State Police.

Big Joe - Townsquare Media

Thanks to all my friends who volunteered and took the trip, they worked so hard and it would never have happened without them. It was a life changing trip that I will never forget and it never would have happened without the support of New Jersey’s own. It was an incredible display of Jersey strength.

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Superstorm Sandy

I have lived at the Jersey Shore for 30 years in very close proximity to the beach. When I lived In Sea Bright, the beach was across the street and the Shrewsbury River was in the back of my condo.

When Sandy hit I was living in Long Branch. As everybody who lived at the shore we prepared pretty well for what was to come, or so we thought. The day after Sandy left, the devastation was pretty intense. I started to take a drive in my SUV and came across the two feet of sand spewed across State Highway 36 in Long Branch. I drove around to get close to Sea Bright and was met with five to six foot sand drifts.

Within two days my phone rang and it was Chris Wood who owns Woody’s Ocean Grill in Sea Bright. He was stepping up and using his lot and the nearby municipal lot as an emergency management camp. He needed a few things to make this happen. So we coordinated a list of items and the process began.

Sea Bright was hit hard. Houses and commercial buildings were impacted so hard that they were literally moved off their foundation leaving them inhabitable. Ocean Ave north in Sea Bright was impassable as several feet of sand had covered Highway 36.

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Within days the National Guard was setting up tents and a make shift mess hall to feed the hundreds of volunteers, including power and first responding personnel from all over the country who were using Sea Bright and Monmouth Park parking lots as emergency bases.

Through my live reports on the air at New Jersey 101.5 listeners donated food and supplies, people donated their time to aid in the cleanup, people who weren’t affected donated generators and supplies to those who needed them.

I went down to Sea Bright almost every day for about two weeks and the amount of help and the coordination of those efforts ran like a Swiss watch. Chris Wood did an unbelievable job. As things continued to get cleaned up my musician friends all stepped up and we put on about 10 or 12 shows all over the state that collected funds for those who were devastated by the ravage of Sandy.

It was surreal as the damage reminded me so much of what I witnessed in the Gulf Coast when Katrina hit. FEMA and civil engineers using blue tarps on the roofs of the damaged homes with spray painted numbers and letters determining the ultimate fate of someone’s home. Seeing that gave me goose bumps. It’s one thing to see it in another land 1300 miles away but when it hits your home town it becomes real, very real.

New Jersey got together; New Jersey helped its own, as we always do. While the devastation of Sandy made me depressed, the strength and resilience of New Jersey’s own made me so very proud and helped ease that pain.

As we go through our tough times now, I remember that Jersey strength that seems to make things better here in the Great Garden State. Jersey Strength is a healing remedy. We need to remember that and help each other the best we can.

Stay safe, stay informed and for God’s sake stay Jersey strong!