23 Aug 2014
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After Husband's Death, Neighbors Help Woman Weather Storm

From bringing hot meals to waiting hours in line to get gas for their neighbor's generator, the LoGrassos made an impact on those around them after Superstorm Sandy.

After Husband's Death, Neighbors Help Woman Weather Storm

For days, and in most cases, , Superstorm Sandy tested the patience of many area residents. But it also joined neighbors together, helping each other through the challenges that not only the storm, but its aftermath, brought. 

This was particularly true for a group of neighbors who live on Brook Valley Road, where the borders of Kinnelon and Montville meet.

Winding, thin roads lined by trees lead to the Kinnelon home of Edie Gaetjens, whose husband, Larry, died the day Sandy made landfall in New Jersey. Larry Gaetjens turned 84 on Oct. 29 and died that afternoon from a heart attack while he was outside just hours before the storm came.

"He was just an awesome guy. It's just a great loss," next-door neighbor Donna Marie LoGrasso said. 

While coping with the loss of a loved one may be difficult enough, Edie Gaetjens also had to deal with an extended loss of power at her home, which persisted for 11 days beginning the night of her husband's passing. But she was not alone. LoGrasso and her husband, Joe LoGrasso, took it upon themselves to care for Gaetjens. According to LoGrasso, Larry Gaetjens would have returned the favor.

"He, too, would have done anything for any one of us," she said.

Edie Gaetjens said Wednesday she was grateful for the compassion of her neighbors, especially during her difficult time. The LoGrassos, and other neighbors, brought hot water and food to Gaetjens' home when she did not want to leave. They checked in on her and offered her a place to stay.

"Everybody was so kind and considerate," Gaetjens said.

Gaetjens had trouble finding the words to convey how appreciative she was for those who surround her.

"They're taking care of me," she said. "They're a wonderful group of neighbors."

Immediately following the storm, the LoGrassos also helped care for Gary Lehnert, an 88-year-old Towaco resident who lives two doors down from Gaetjens. Lehnert is legally blind and he is unable to drive.

"The older you get, the weaker you are," he said.

On a regular basis, Donna Marie LoGrasso helps Lehnert with grocery shopping, bringing him to the store and helping pick out items. The LoGrassos continued their assistance immediately after the storm, ensuring Lehnert had food and heat with a generator.

"Without the LoGrassos, I wouldn't be able to stay here," Lehnert said.

Ensuring their neighbors were safe and comfortable over the 11 days until power was restored also included waiting in line for gas. As the LoGrassos waited more than two hours  each day to get gas for their generator (they, too, were without power for 11 days) before the governor ordered rationing, LoGrasso said they were limited to only be able to purchase $50 worth once they got their turn. They got as much gasoline as they could and then divided it up so that they could share with Lehnert to keep his generator going. Since they were limited by how much they could purchase, this caused a need for multiple trips.

"We had to split it because he couldn't stand on line, so we stayed on line," LoGrasso said.

Gaetjens and Lehnert were not the only neighbors the LoGrassos were concerned with either.

"They constantly checked in with both neighbors multiple times a day, making sure they had hot meals and hot tea at all times," Lisa Simek, another neighbor of the street said. "Through all that, they even checked in on us as well (my husband and I have a newborn and we had a tree falling damage as well)."

Donna Marie LoGrasso said she did not think her family had such a bad situation when compared to her neighbors, who saw large trees come down close to their homes. As for helping each other, storm or not, LoGrasso said it is just what she, and the others on the street, do.

"We've been here for about 24 years and they've been here way longer than that. We developed a bond just to look out for one another," she said.

LoGrasso added that it is not so much Sandy that brought the neighbors together this time, but the street on which they live.

"It seems like we're alone up here," LoGrasso said. "I think that's why we really come together."

Did a neighbor, community volunteer or employee help you during or after the storm? Share your story in the comments, or contact me at ariana.cohn-sheehan@patch.com

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