A Sliver of Hope in Sandy-Ravaged Towns as Businesses Pull Together

She flattened towns, reduced homes to rubble, flooded tunnels, destroyed railways, blew transformers, displaced families and shattered lives.

But Hurricane Sandy has not dampened the sense of community that is coursing through the hardest hit areas of New York and New Jersey.

Small and large businesses -- many themselves hit by the super storm -- have joined the first responders, firemen, police, Red Cross, National Guard and volunteers in recent days in an attempt to bring relief to families and towns in need, and to inject some normalcy into a region upended by the East Coast’s worst natural disaster in more than 100 years.

“It’s pure devastation down here, it really is,” said George Lyristis, owner of The Bistro and Teak restaurants in Red Bank, N.J. “Everybody’s chipping in.”

Since Sandy pounded the tri-state area a week ago, stories of humanity, of powerless and flooded businesses giving back to their communities, have littered the map from Staten Island and Queens to the tiny beach towns all along New Jersey’s coastline.

Here are just a few of them:

On Saturday, after getting word that a shelter in Keansburg, N.J. housing 700 people needed hot food for dinner, Lyristis’ Bistro restaurant cooked 100 gallons of soup and delivered the piping hot food to the middle-school-turned-shelter.

“I felt like I was one of the lucky ones,” Lyristis said, who also delivered trays of food with the help of a police escort to emergency personnel in storm-ravaged Seabright, N.J. “If I’m not cooking for them, who is?”

Right down the block from Bistro, a group comprised mostly of 20-somethings began a massive movement virtually overnight on Thursday by turning the retail space of local business Sounds to go DJs into a drop-off for relief supplies.

Hungry to contribute to the relief efforts, Sounds to go DJs owner Mike Hernandez and a group of his friends constructed a massive sign out of white printer paper reading “Hurricane Relief Donations Accepted Here” and secured it to the business’s window using blue masking tape, officially opening the small wedding production company’s doors to toys, toiletries, food and clothing.

Coupled with savvy social media marketing, the core group doubled within hours, and then quadrupled by Friday. Adopting the name “RebuildRecover” and attracting dozens of volunteers on Saturday to sort and deliver goods, it became a major distribution center over the weekend for the Central Jersey Shore region, targeting towns along the Raritan Bay and Atlantic Ocean.

It generated so much buzz that even local celebrity Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show stopped by with a car full of supplies.

“You never think it could happen to you, but when it does, you follow your instinct,” said Hernandez, who postponed operations at his business to make room for the hundreds of rolls of toilet paper, towels, shirts, pants and toiletries. “The community really does come together.”

While Hernandez will resume wedding consultations this week, it will be far from business as usual, as RebuildRecover will continue to operate through Sounds to go DJs at least for the next few days.

“We cannot rest,” Hernandez said. “We’re going to do whatever we can.”

The RebuildRecover team is also looking to find owners or temporary foster parents for animals either rescued in the aftermath of Sandy or sitting in shelters that are inoperable due to a lack of power.

And while it’s still early in the recovery process, RebuildRecover is already talking about orchestrating a benefit concert to raise awareness and money about the devastation in an effort to help rebuild the coast, a feat that politicians and experts have already predicted could take several years.

A few miles from Red Bank in a town nestled below sea level, Highlands, N.J., is reeling from severe flooding that reached as high as eight feet in some areas.

Mark Danzeisen, owner of the Twin Light Tap House, said flood water reached several feet in height in his local watering hole, but he nevertheless was humbled to see the community – business owners and residents alike – uniting to tear out sheetrock and clear garbage.

“You just can’t do it by yourself,” Danzeisen said.

One of the lucky Highlands bars, The Chubby Pickle, which escaped with just a foot of water in the restaurant, opened its doors so that people could use its bathrooms, drink coffee and recharge phones.

In that same town, the chef of devastated Chilangos Restaurant has been cooking for the local shelter.

Businesses in nearby Atlantic Highlands, whose residents are perched on slightly higher ground, have opened their doors to provide heat and charging stations for residents still without power.

“It’s about giving people a place to come that’s warm,” said Atlantic Highlands-based Carton Brewery co-owner Chris Carton, who encouraged employees to gather and bring as many power strips and chargers as possible so they could construct a makeshift charging center.

Down the road, the Flaky Tart pastry shop owner, Marie Jackson, and other small businesses like the Lusty Lobster and Beacon Hill Country Club, have been cooking and delivering hot food for shelters.

Dr. Dennis Brown, who owns a chiropractic practice in Atlantic Highlands, ran a two-day clothing and food drive and delivered  thousands of goods to places in need all over the area. On Sunday, he also began offering police, firefighters and first aiders on-site chiropractic adjustments.

“So many residents and business people in Atlantic Highlands have been coming to my back door asking what they can do,” Jackson said. “It is so awful but at the same time the generosity I have seen [is] inspiring.”

From the Memphis Pig Out in Atlantic Highlands to Bar Anticipation in Belmar, restaurants stocked full of inventory from before Sandy have hosted street-side barbecues for victims.

In New York, restaurant owner Paul Nicaj, who lost one of his restaurants in Babylon, Long Island, delivered hot pizza and pasta, as well as some dinners that were meant for the canceled NYC Marathon, to Staten Island, with the help of police escorts. Nicaj plans to do another drop on Thursday following the nor’easter set to hit New York and New Jersey this week.

Last week, Hillier Gourmet Coffee owner Bob Hillier passed out free hot coffee in Staten Island.

At the same time, many large corporations have either pledged monetary support or issued physical aid.

Proctor & Gamble’s (NYSE:PG) Duracell-branded “Power Forward” fleet of mobile charging and battery stations were deployed to hard-hit areas like Battery Park in lower Manhattan, while P&G’s laundry detergent brand Tide took over a Lowe’s (NYSE:LOW) parking lot in Eatontown, N.J., to provide free laundry services for victims under its Tides Loads of Hope Program.

Hess (NYSE:HES), which was able to open 177 of its 186 gas stations despite Sandy-inflicted power outages thanks to 85 generators, donated $5 million to New York and New Jersey relief efforts.

Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD) switched a line at its Cartersville, Ga., brewery to water from beer to produce millions of cans of emergency drinking water for East Coast states.

And while mobile carriers worked around the clock to fix damaged base stations and antennas in the tri-state area, AT&T (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile formed a temporary alliance enabling their customers to roam on both networks.