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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Jan 28, 2020

Close-Knit Community finds Solace after Superstorm Sandy

By Deirdre Flanagan Ward

When disaster strikes and a community becomes displaced, people come together in different ways in attempt to regroup, replenish and regain a sense of normalcy. Some take a direct approach, tackling the basic needs, while others assess the damage in a different way and look for creative ways to recover and reconnect the community.

The Sea Bright Knitting Club was formed after Superstorm Sandy destroyed the idyllic seaside town of Sea Bright and the entire New Jersey coastline. Sea Bright’s residents were displaced – many lost their homes, their possessions and their sense of security. People’s nerves turned fragile, and for many, the feelings are still real today.

Megan Gilhool, Monmouth Beach native and founder of the knitting club, explained the impetus to creating the group and the healing it continues to nurture.

“I started the club after ‘Stupid’ Storm Sandy hit and [we] ended up trapped in our home without heat or electricity for 14 days,” she said. “People were sleeping on our couches. I’d be wide awake, sitting in the kitchen, watching the minutes tick by on the clock. I was going stir crazy! Since everyone went to sleep so early because of the time change, I knew I had to do something or I was going to lose my mind. I came up with the idea of knitting and set out to get my supplies.”

Although the stores were closed, determination won out over inconvenience, and Gilhool eventually secured supplies, learned a few stitches from her sister, Holly, and sat down to knit.

“That night I sat in my kitchen while everyone else slept, and I knitted,” Gilhool said. “I felt a sense of calm come over me. I wasn’t anxious anymore. I was enjoying the sound of the needles, the feel of the yarn. I liked watching the progress I was making on my scarf. Plus, it wasn’t over-stimulating, and I eventually was able to go to sleep. Knitting got me through the storm, and I knew I wanted to share this with my friends who were going through the same traumatic experience.”

Gilhool posted on social media that a knitting club was in the works and was in need of supplies. Readers responded and began leaving donations on her front porch. With the assistance of her sister, who also worked for the Salvation Army, the pair were able to cobble together enough needles and yarn to supply a small group. Gradually the attendance grew as the group became a haven for calming nerves and also a source for sharing conversation, information and healing.

“One woman who lost her apartment came to the club the first night,” Gilhool recalled. “She told us she had been sharing her food with her daughter. She was unaware there were supply sources available. She had lost 15 pounds. This woman had fallen through the cracks. We were able to get her food, clothing, heaters, etc. Another woman who was able to return to her home, ended up on an empty street. She felt isolated and afraid. When she came to our club, she found a new set of friends and didn’t feel as alone. We also have kids who came and learned to knit and felt proud of their accomplishments. One girl returned to school and taught her class how to knit. The knitting club provided a place to vent, to find resources, and sometimes just a place to get away for a few hours and not worry about anything else.”
In the post-Sandy years, the club has grown in many ways. While it remains a comfort zone for those continuing to experience displacement or anxiety, it has transitioned into somewhat of social club with a knitting component.

“We have a lot of fun in our group,” Gilhool said. “We have parties at people’s homes. We meet at different locations, like a tiki bar or the Monmouth Race Track. We are all about fun, friendship and helping each other recover. Our group ranges in ages from 17 to 98 years, and we even have people bring grandchildren to either finger knit or make yarn dolls.”

The club has an open door policy and meets on Sunday afternoons (from 2 to 4 pm) in the new Beach Pavilion. There are no dues, however there are two rules: No talking politics and no talking religion.

The club is also looking to get more men and boys involved. Gilhool believes it is a place for everyone – the calm after the storm.

“It’s so nice to see people of all ages sitting side by side, laughing and enjoying each other’s company,” she said. “Knitting has saved many people in our community, and I know for sure that it has saved me.”

To learn more about the club, visit them on Facebook at Sea Bright Knitting Club.