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King George man raising funds to help victims of Hurricane Sandy

By CATHY DYSON

Phil Salmeri will spend Thanksgiving at the Jersey shore, like he’s always done, but this visit won’t focus on food, family and watching rival high school teams play football.

The King George County man will spend the holiday week cutting downed trees, clearing mud and muck and doing anything he can to help those who suffered some of the worst devastation from Superstorm Sandy.

“It will feel good to do something, to help somebody out,” Salmeri said. “We have everything, and these people have nothing.”

Salmeri, who is retired from the Air Force and civil service, also will take donations he’s collected. He’s put up fliers around Dahlgren and contacted business people he knows through his work in government contracting.

He hopes to give sizable sums to at least four or five people who need help the most. His relatives will help him find minimum-wage earners, such as the people who clean the veterinary office where his sister works.

“I’d rather see five people get $1,000 apiece rather than a bunch of people get $100,” he said. “And, I’m gonna make sure a doctor or lawyer doesn’t get it, that’s for damn sure.”

AREA LEFT IN SHAMBLES

Salmeri, 66, grew up in Monmouth County, a shorefront community that was left in shambles after Sandy walloped New Jersey and New York in late October.

As a kid, Salmeri used to ride his bike to the shore and body surf. His backyard would flood from time to time from its closeness to two rivers—the Navesink and Shrewsbury—but nothing like the damage caused by the hurricane.

Whole towns were swallowed by sand and water. Beach clubs and areas that Salmeri frequented—in Seabright and Monmouth, Atlantic Highlands and Keyport—were destroyed or damaged heavily, the result of 14-foot storm surges.

Salmeri’s sister and family in Middletown were spared. They were without electricity for two weeks, but went out to help others before their heat and hot water returned.

Salmeri’s sister, Kathy Nesci, is a veterinary surgeon, and her husband, Steve, a retired state trooper. He helped Salmeri’s son, Jason, get his job as a New Jersey state trooper.

The Nesci sons, Philip and Andrew, were working on their Eagle Scout badges, but put those projects on hold. When they couldn’t go to school—because there was no electricity—they joined the cleanup.

Kathy Nesci said she was awed by the organization of Amish families, who went through neighborhoods. One crew ripped out drywall, insulation and carpet, followed by another that disinfected rooms to prevent the spread of mold.

By the end of the day, everything that had been contaminated in the floodwaters was on the sidewalk, ready to be hauled away. Crews moved on to other neighborhoods, focused on getting the job done.

“It’s that kind of philosophy, up and down the shore,” Salmeri said.

‘PEOPLE WANT TO HELP’

Salmeri wanted to help his nephews’ Scout group cook Thanksgiving dinner, but isn’t sure if the event will be held. Officials were concerned about various groups preparing food and didn’t want food poisoning added to the list of problems.

Then, he considered collecting clothes and blankets, but learned that shore residents don’t have anywhere to put them. So, he narrowed his focus to collecting money. He put jars at two buildings he owns in Dahlgren, MR & MS Hair Design and Potomac Executive Suites.

Within minutes, people responded. As he explained his plans to a hairdresser, a customer handed him $20. When he told people at SimVentions, a high-tech defense contractor in Spotsylvania County, the company donated $500.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “Every time I turn around, people want to help.”

Brabant’s Bookkeeping & Tax in King George will keep track of the donations. Salmeri isn’t surprised that residents of King George and beyond are reaching out to their northern neighbors.

He said they did the same in 1987, when he worked at the Navy base in Dahlgren and needed a bone-marrow transplant. His sister was the donor, and his co-workers gave him their leave time so he could earn a paycheck during his four-month recovery.

“People helped me when I was hurt,” Salmeri said. “It’s a good time to give back.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

 

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