By Donald Wittkowski
As a barrier island community exposed to the whims of the ocean, Sea Isle City has been the unfortunate target of plenty of hurricanes, tropical storms and nor’easters over the years.
Old-timers in town still reminisce about the great storm of 1962 that destroyed the city’s boardwalk and left homes in splintered ruins. More recently, Hurricane Sandy unleashed its fury on Sea Isle while lashing the Jersey Shore in 2012.
Now that Puerto Rico is trying to recover from Hurricane Maria’s devastating blow, Sea Isle has a pretty good sense of the misery that the Caribbean island nation is going through and wants to lend a helping hand, officials said.
The Sea Isle City of Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization is organizing a hurricane relief drive to collect much-needed donations for the Puerto Rican village of San Lorenzo, which has been without electricity and running water since Maria struck on Sept. 20.
“People in Sea Isle have great sympathy for what the people of Puerto Rico are going through, knowing that their lives and livelihood have been destroyed,” said Christopher Glancey, Chamber of Commerce president.
Glancey said if he has learned anything about the residents of Sea Isle over the years, it’s that they are “always willing to help out.”
The Chamber of Commerce will set up a large shipping container to collect supplies for Puerto Rico on Oct. 20 and 21, during the weekend of Sea Isle’s Octoberfest celebration.
Water, nonperishable food, flashlights, batteries, diapers and personal hygiene items are being sought.
“For us to be able to send supplies down there is a good gesture,” Glancey said.
Glancey’s trucking company, Polaris Intermodal Services, will deliver the 40-foot-by-8-foot shipping container from Sea Isle to Pennsauken, N.J. From Pennsauken, the container will be transported by ship to San Lorenzo by Crowley Maritime Corp.
Al Iannelli Sr., president of Polaris and co-owner of the company with Glancey, said he hopes the container will be completely full when it is sent to Puerto Rico.
Already, truck drivers at the Polaris facilities in Pennsauken and Hillside, N.J., have donated $450 worth of water – 1,836 bottles of it – to be included in the hurricane relief supplies headed to Puerto Rico, Iannelli said.
Polaris is donating the $700 cost to truck the container between Sea Isle and Pennsauken. The Chamber of Commerce will pay the $3,350 shipping fee to get the supplies to San Lorenzo, Iannelli said.
It was through one of Iannelli’s friends that the connection between Sea Isle and San Lorenzo was established. Glancey and Iannelli wanted to help Puerto Rico, but had no direct ties with the government or local people to help them launch their plans for a hurricane relief drive.
But one morning over breakfast, Iannelli began talking to his close friend, Guillermo “Willie” Claudio, and discovered that he has connections to Puerto Rico, including family members who live in San Lorenzo.
Using his contacts in Puerto Rico, Claudio has helped Polaris to set up a pipeline with Ramonita Nieves Gonzalez, a senior aide to the mayor of San Lorenzo, Iannelli explained.
“She’s an important cog in the wheel,” Iannelli said of Nieves Gonzalez. “She’ll receive the container and will distribute the products.”
Iannelli noted that Claudio’s father lives in San Lorenzo. He credited Claudio with playing a key role in the Sea Isle hurricane relief drive, an effort that could very well end up helping his father, as well as many other Puerto Ricans.
“Without Willie, this would never happen,” Iannelli said.