Freehold, New Jersey. Bruce Springsteen’s hometown. And, more recently, the site of great upheaval in the wake of Sandy. The Allstate Blog sat down with Allstate agency owner Andrea Zorzi, whose agency has a long history in Freehold, to learn how the storm has impacted the community, how she’s been lending a helping hand, and her thoughts on what’s next for the city that inspired the small-town America lyrics of Springsteen songs.
Allstate Blog: So, how strong is your connection to Freehold?
Andrea Zorzi: My dad was a 40-year Allstate agent. He retired in 2008, and I took the business over from there. Our office has been in Freehold for more than 25 years.
AB: How prepared were you for the impact Sandy could have?
AZ: The forecasters warned that this would be an unprecedented storm … but in our area we have been so fortunate to escape any kind of severe weather that, although they might have made some preparations, I think many doubted it was going to have such a severe impact.
AB: How soon did you realize that the impact was, indeed, severe?
AZ: I live five blocks from the ocean, and I stayed through the storm. The next morning, I took a walk to the ocean. It was hard to recognize that this was the same place I stood the day before. The entire landscape had changed. There were homes that floated into the street, debris strewn about, things that didn’t belong where they were … sections of the boardwalk three streets over from where it should be. I’ve never seen anything like it.
AB: How soon were you able to communicate with customers?
AZ: It was very difficult in the beginning. None of us had power in our homes or offices, no gas and nowhere to get it. Even cell phone service was disrupted … for many, only text messages were getting through. I knew that so many of our customers were in the affected areas and without power, phones or internet in the office or anywhere. It was easy to feel helpless. I posted my cell phone number on our office door and kept showing up, not knowing what else to do; my staff and I wanted to help these people whose lives, we knew, had been torn apart.
AB: What could you do to help?
AZ: Well, the first few days after the tragedy, the needs were immediate for things like flashlights, batteries, candles, jackets, and blankets. But it was clear that no one knew where to go or what to do. So, we’re sitting in our cold, dark office and my senior producer, Joann came up with the idea that we should be a drop-off point for supplies.
AB: Great idea. So, how did you spread the word?
AZ: We were able to get Facebook on our phones, so we started by posting requests for supplies on Saturday night. We saw what people close to the affected areas were posting about their needs—we compiled a list and put it out there. On Sunday morning, we came into the office, we barely got the signs up and people just started coming in. Many with their cars and vans full of stuff!
AB: That must have really felt good.
AZ: It did. It gave us purpose. By the time our power came on a few days later, the office was filled to the brim with donations. As customers started coming in to file or discuss their claims, we had people still streaming in with donations. It motivated many of our customers to come back to the office with donations of their own. We’ve been filling trucks, and calling on our friends to use their trucks, to get everything out to these checkpoints that have been set up near the most affected areas. These hubs have been created because so many people have been coming out with offers to help. We’ve certainly seen that sense of philanthropy. For our own efforts, the volunteers and donations we’ve amassed have been amazing. It just sort of snowballed.
AB: Why do you think that is?
AZ: I think, for many people, it was empowering to be proactive and actually start doing something. So many people lost so much. Coming in to help those people was a way to turn the helplessness into hope. In fact, a whole movement has formed to help—it’s truly an outpouring of support. AB