Fred Schaffer: His “get it done” attitude got it done with RREM.
It might have been easier to wash their hands of the Jersey Shore after Superstorm Sandy’s one-two punch if Fred and Marjorie Schaffer were people who are easily derailed.
They’re not. They’re made of strong stock, and they believe in their community.
In those chaotic months after Sandy belched 3½ feet of water into their three-bedroom bungalow in the Mystic Island section of Little Egg Harbor Township, Ocean County, the Schaffers set aside the feelings of hopelessness. Family roots planted here when they bought the bungalow as a vacation home in 1993 would need some tending to if they were to stand any chance of emerging from the floodwaters.
Fred enrolled in the State’s primary rebuilding program, the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program, or RREM. He had high hopes that the $150,000 grant would fill the gap after their flood insurance and other assistance left them short of what was needed to rebuild.
A graphic artist by trade, Fred had no experience in construction but his “get it done” attitude, coupled with sound advice from his modular home salesman, were big motivators.
Confronted with the widespread devastation of Superstorm Sandy, Fred says he summoned up the determination needed to get his house back, calling on the assistance of the RREM Program to get through the hardship of losing his treasured home.
The Schaffers’ summer bungalow on the lagoon became their permanent home only three years before Sandy struck on Oct. 29, 2012. Marjorie, a high school teacher, had just gotten the kitchen she wanted.
As the storm moved up the East coast, the couple devised a plan. Fred, who is disabled by a bad back, would hunker down at his mother’s home a mile inland, his wife would stay in Middletown with one of their two daughters. They prepared by blockading doors, piling precious antiques onto beds, tables, counters. “The water came in anyway,” Fred says.
Three-and-a-half feet of water from the lagoon pushed its way in after the first storm surge. Fred, fearing what he might find, was reluctant to go back home. But he donned waders to tromp through the murky floodwaters back to his home on Lake Superior Drive. “I looked in and started crying. Everything was waterlogged.”
Sandy’s next jab came with the second surge, destroying almost everything that escaped the first rush. “When we finally went down there (again) and saw the damage…” Fred says, his voice trailing off.
“There are boats in the street that aren’t yours,” he recalls one recent afternoon. “The force of the water popped open the recliner. The fireplace ended up at the front of the house.” Floodwaters ripped up the back deck and chewed up their bulkhead.
Their summer bungalow, like many along the battered Shore, purged the possessions that make a house a home. Piled high on the curb were soggy mattresses and furnishings, disintegrating photos and generations of heirlooms and keepsakes.
After signing their RREM grant in October 2013, the couple took their dachshund Roxy and two shih tzus, Stitch and Mia, and moved into a 27-foot trailer Fred bought and parked on their property. When his bungalow was demolished, his neighbor gave permission to temporarily park on the property.
For 14 months, they had a front-row view of the crane setting their modular home onto pilings on the 50-by-100 square foot lot. They were there for deliveries of the sand-colored glass tile and the stainless steel appliances Marjorie hand-picked for her new kitchen with 42-inch mahogany cabinets. Her color choices for their new three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home—aquas, greens, warm neutrals—reflect the colors of the ocean and sand.
Fred and Marjorie’s faces lit up with pride as they showed off the 1,100 square feet they call “Our Therapy” to David Reiner, Deputy Commissioner at the Department of Community Affairs, and Sam Viavattine, Director of the Sandy Recovery Division. With all the work complete, the couple could exhale.
Fred recognized the value in being your own boss and being involved in recovering from the storm.
As he continues to recover (he’s still hobbled by the bad back), he can reflect fondly on the bright spots. Chief among them was the stability his housing advisor brought to their lives after they lost their home in the storm. This included the optimism that they would get their paradise back.
Samantha Wagner, the Schaffers’ RREM Housing Advisor at the Ocean County Housing Recovery Center in Lakewood, was their shepherd. “If you asked her a question, she got back to you.” Fred says.
With their home complete, Samantha helped direct the Schaffers to the New Jersey Department of Human Services’ Division of Disability Services. Their Sandy Relief Home Access Program provided a stair glide for the 13 steps that rise into Fred and Marjorie’s slice of paradise, now elevated 10 feet off the ground.
As the couple looks back on those heady days, a memory emerges that speaks to why they rebuilt in Mystic Island, a community they’ve come to love.
“The people who didn’t get flooded would come around with muffins, there was free food at the high school, the Red Cross brought dinners,” Marjorie says. “It made me cry.”
“That’s when it hit me,” adds Fred, “when they opened the back of the truck and said, ‘Come…, get something to eat.’”
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