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Minister tries to help Sandy victims move on

The Rev. John Durante of Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., tries to reason with homeowners unwilling, or unable, to let go of damaged possessions. It is often a daunting task.

December 11, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times
  • The Rev. John Durante, pastor of Jersey Shore Calvary Chapel, reviews a list of storm-damaged homes his church and a team of volunteers would be helping that day.
The Rev. John Durante, pastor of Jersey Shore Calvary Chapel, reviews a… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)

POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. — The Rev. John Durante knows the challenge of rebuilding after a storm is not just physical, but emotional.

While leading volunteers on a mission to clean homes ravaged by Superstorm Sandy, the 47-year-old pastor has tried to reason with homeowners unwilling, or unable, to let go of damaged possessions. He draws on his background as a former sales rep and general contractor.

"A lot of them are still in denial," said Durante, who heads Jersey Shore Calvary Chapel. "It's tough to convince people what to do when it's their whole life. That house represents more than just an aesthetic."

Last week, he took a visiting pastor to try to convince Patty McAdam, a part-time drug and alcohol counselor, that she needed to rip out moldy wooden floors from her white stucco bungalow.

When they arrived, a defogger was running inside the house, trying to dry the place out. Durante peeked in a window. The inside of the glass was speckled with small black spots of mold.

"You can see the hardwood floors are still there," Durante said in dismay.

Just then, McAdam, 57, walked up with her sister, who is disabled. They have been staying with friends and returning to clean the three-bedroom house. McAdam said volunteers from a Baptist church in North Carolina had stopped by and had offered to help save her floor.

Durante gave her a stern look.

"Let's just see what happens with the defogging," she said. "Someone told me you could sand them and polyurethane them."

Doesn't work, Durante said. "What happens if later on you have to rip the floors out because you have terrible mold? Do you want to run the risk of doing it twice?"

He paused. McAdam was tearing up.

This was the house her parents shared for 25 years. Her mother died three years ago after McAdam moved in to care for her. Her father died last year. Until the storm, she had saved her mother's knickknacks, her parents clothes — had kept the house just the way her parents left it, even the floors.

"They're the floors my parents walked on," McAdam said.

"What do you think your mom and dad would want? They would want you healthy," said the other pastor, the Rev. Jeffrey Boucher of Powerhouse Christian Church in Wyckoff, N.J. "Right now the labor is free, but it's not always going to be."

McAdam looked defeated. Durante gave her a hug.

She has lost so much — not just the contents of her house, but her town and her shore. Her plan was always to have her ashes strewn from Casino Pier in Seaside Heights. Now the pier is in ruins. The boardwalk in Point Pleasant, where she and her sister used to walk daily, was twisted like a snake. Neighbors are moving away.

"I'll call you tomorrow," she told the ministers.

Durante left disappointed. Those floors needed to go. But he suspected that McAdam, like so many other storm victims, would do all she could to hold onto what little she had left of the past.

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