A time of great tragedy can often bring out both the best and worst of human nature.
For residents of Central New Jersey living under the dark cloud of destruction wrought by Superstorm Sandy last month, a helping hand was extended from the Midwest as a group of good samaritans made their way around the area helping residents deal with extensive storm damage. There was only one catch, the volunteers refused to take any money for their help.
"The owner of the company we work for sent us up here and we kind of ended up just doing whatever we could do to help people out," said Ben Doyle, of Muscatine, IA. "We saw everything on TV and we knew it was going to be bad, so we came right up here the day after the storm."
The three Iowan volunteers work mainly on welding jobs for their employer Fabricators Plus, but with the considerable amount of fallen trees in the area, the men set about helping homeowners with any problems they encountered. The company's owner sent the three men down and put them up in hotels so they could provide aid where it was needed. This was not the first charitable endeavor for the company, as they also sent a group to New Orleans to help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
While they were prepared to tackle any kind of damage they saw, the men ended up largely working on homes in the area after arriving in Staten Island.
"We've taken a bunch of trees down and cleaned up a bunch of yards," Doyle said. "That first day in Staten Island, we helped a guy cut the bottom of a boat that ended up in his backyard. We worked our way down the street and helped a guy go through his belongings that ended up in his front yard and we cut down a tree that fell."
While they anticipated a large amount of metal work, Doyle said the group arrived from Iowa ready to take on any job they encountered.
"We came up with pretty much any tool we would need. We do a lot of welding and fabricating for our job but we haven't done anything like that so far," Doyle said. "We knew Staten Island got hit hard, so we made it a point to make it there first. Then we just kind of worked our way around randomly and made our way to Central Jersey."
Doyle said the group has performed about a dozen jobs throughout the area as they made their way around the storm-ravaged region. While stopped at a diner on Route 130 in East Windsor, the men met a local resident in need who found herself in a state of disbelief at their generosity.
"I happened to meet them, we got to talking and they were just really nice people. They said they were up here to help and asked me if I needed anything done on my property," said East Windsor resident Marlene Klena. "I said I just have some branches that fell, and the next morning they showed up and cleaned the entire property. I couldn't believe it."
Even more surprising than the help was the fact that the group refused any type of payment, other than lunch.
"They wouldn't take a dime," Klena said. "I mean I was just shocked. I'm not in a position to pay a lot of money like that, but they wouldn't take a dime. They said they would only take lunch."
For the volunteers, Doyle said the trip up to New Jersey wasn't in the interest of fattening their pockets, but was solely done to help those going through their darkest hour.
"Everybody up there really needed help," he said. "We just couldn't accept money from them. That's money that could be used for something else."
After returning home for Thanksgiving, the three Iowans made their way back to the area. The trip home presented another problem, however, as the men didn't want to lug all of their equipment back home only to bring it back to New Jersey days later.
"They called me and asked if I knew a place they could store their trailer," Klena said. "I asked my son and he said what about your driveway? So I offered them and they brought their trailer over and unhooked it in my driveway. Then they tried to hand me a couple hundred dollars. I said don't even insult me I'm not taking money from you. I was shocked they wanted to pay me to park their trailer here after what they did for me."
As regions of the Jersey Shore and New York continue the long road to recovery from Sandy, the volunteers are now performing work for FEMA in Staten Island. Aside from returning home for Christmas, they anticipate performing work in the area for the next six months or so.
"People here have treated us really well and everyone has been real thankful for our help," Doyle said. "It makes all of us feel great and puts us all in a better mood to help someone and maybe make a difference for someone else."