Written by Sarah Harris, Barbara Fox, and Robin Birkel
Hurricane Sandy caused havoc in New Jersey. Princetonians suffered downed trees, road closures, power outages, school and business closures, sporadic cell service, and no Comcast or FiOS phone service.
Princeton has long been one of the most wired towns in the nation. So when Sandy hit, and virtually all of Princeton lost power and phone service, lots of people were frantic, not just to notify family members that they were safe, but to conduct business. The next day Princeton United Methodist Church opened its doors. That day, and the entire week, Pastor Jana Purkis-Brash, Music Director Hyosang Park, and church members plugged in the coffee pot and posted a sign on the lawn. It read: Come in! Get warm! Charge and use our wi-fi!
We provided a safe and warm environment for charging cell phones and other devices, staying connected with family and friends, reading, studying, and working. Additionally, we served meals to those not able to cook.
Wednesday, two dozen passersby sought brief refuge from the cold, plus nearly 100 people spent the day. Church members hosted in the Sanford Davis room. Then at 4 p.m. the Cornerstone Community Kitchen team converted it into a dining room. The menu was roast pork, mashed potatoes, salad, and dessert for 73 hungry people.
Thursday, PUMC hosted 75 wi-fi users, everyone from entrepreneurs who stayed all day, to frustrated travelers needing a computer to update their itinerary, to families with children who just dropped by. Some were referred by the Princeton Public Library, which with thousands of visitors daily was having trouble meeting the enormous demand. Even PUMC’s wi-fi had faltered because of too many users, so two more wi-fi nodes were added. We served breakfast, lunch, and another Cornerstone Community Kitchen dinner. This time it was spaghetti for 100 people. At that point, many in Princeton still had no power, and it was getting quite cold.
PUMC hosted lunch again on Friday, and breakfast and lunch was offered on Saturday. Of course, all of these services were provided free of charge.
“You imagine that this is what a church should do, but you rarely ever see it done,” said Princeton resident Diana Rhodes, one of the grateful visitors. “What a wonderful service you have provided!”
Meanwhile, outside of the church, PUMCers were living their faith. More than a dozen in the youth group responded to a plea for help to clean the property of a church member living alone. Generators were brought to several families who are vulnerable to the cold, including someone new to the community.