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'One person can do so much'

Nielsen family leads local effort to send help to storm victims in New Jersey


by: SUBMITTED - Piles and piles of debris greeted relief workers who flocked to Point Pleasant, N.J. by: SUBMITTED - Piles and piles of debris greeted relief workers who flocked to Point Pleasant, N.J. Some big help can result from a small decision. Jennifer Nielsen of Lake Oswego found that out this past week.

“My husband, Tom, called me last Friday and said he was going to help people in New Jersey hit by Hurricane Sandy,” Nielsen said. “He had wanted to help during Hurricane Katrina and the Japanese tsunami. This time he told me, ‘Now I’m going to help.’”

A Jersey guy himself, Tom Nielsen is well equipped to go on missions of mercy, with his background as a Boy Scout leader, engineer and member of the Army Reserve. But it was his decision to help that has really made a difference. Sparked by just one email, items started flowing into the Nielsens’ home, and the volunteers sent Tom Nielsen loaded with supplies on his journey to Point Pleasant, N.J.

“We got $4,000 worth of items and filled seven pallets,” Jennifer Nielsen said. “There’s food, sleeping bags, clothing and cleaning supplies. This has been a crazy, crazy ride. There were 11 people at our house.”

It has also been quite emotional.

“My husband and I broke down twice a day,” Jennifer Nielsen said.

It was also a week of irony.

Jennifer Nielsen said, “One person who was a victim of Katrina was here. One volunteer had lost his mother in a tornado. He had been looking for ways to help his entire life.”

Some of the bad news hit home. One family member lost her house when it was deluged by 3 feet of water as the entire Point Pleasant area was devastated.

Still, the quick groundswell of support in Lake Oswego was heartwarming.

“The theme of this week seemed to be that people are feeling helpless and don’t know what to do,” Jennifer Nielsen said. “We helped them find what to do.”

Tom Nielsen will keep up the good work in New Jersey. He reported that in Point Pleasant he is helping to remove debris and items from the home of an elderly woman, sorting clothing and organizing tools. From there he will proceed to Tom’s River, one of the worst hit areas on the Jersey coast.

“He will be working with ARMS’ (American Recreational Military Service) disaster distribution center,” Jennifer Nielsen said. “This organization will be receiving the seven pallets of goods and supplies collected.

“Today, Tom met a church group from Bellingham, Wash., and firefighters from all over California. All are helping with the cleanup.”

Despite the tragedy in New Jersey, the Nielsen family was able to witness a great display of the human spirit.

Jennifer Nielsen said, “What amazed me was that one person and one email were able to do this.”

by: SUBMITTED - Tom Nielsen of Lake Oswego gives the thumbs-up sign after organizing a supply of tools. A native of New Jersey, Nielsen was determined to help victims of Sandy.

Josh Israel, a new graduate from Riverdale High School, is getting a harsh taste of the real world.

The 19-year-old son of Roberta Kaplan of Lake Oswego, Israel has been working with FEMA Corps to help people in New York who were victimized by the giant storm Sandy.

"He's working 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shifts," Kaplan said. "He's going door-to-door with FEMA fliers and checking on people. He told me it was very humbling."

Israel joined FEMA Corps after graduating from Riverdale this past June. He received intense training at FEMA centers in Mississippi, Alabama and Lousiana before being deployed to New York last Saturday.

Kaplan said, "I'm very proud of my son and the work that all FEMA Corps members are doing."