Mary Pat Christie arrived in person on Friday to thank two local companies for raising money for her Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.
Not one to make long speeches, she stopped at Jersey Mike's in Point Pleasant Beach, thanked them for the money they will be donating to her relief fund during March, did short interviews with reporters, grabbed a sub for the road, and then zipped over to Rite Aid on Bridge Avenue in Point Pleasant Borough.
She consistently ran ahead of schedule and while she was extremely appreciative, her remarks were brief and to the point.
Rite Aid donated nearly $350,000 to the First Lady's relief fund which has received "$32 million in commitments," Christie said. "We're hoping to raise $50 million."
But there is no answer yet to the question everyone is asking: who will get the money?
"We have a committee working very hard every day to identify local, nonprofit organizations to disburse the money," said the governor's wife at Jersey Mike's. "I'm not on that committee." (List of committee members at end of story.)
Grant applications will not be accepted from individuals, only from nonprofits directly assisting in "recovery and rebuilding efforts," according to the "Eligibility and Guidelines" page of the fund's website.
March 15 is the deadline for nonprofits to apply for grants for this initial round of funding, but additional funding cycles will follow, Christie said.
Christie said she hopes the fund will begin allocating funds to local, nonprofit organizations sometime in April. But, she quickly added, those who do not receive funds this spring shouldn't give up hope.
"We're going to be doing additional rounds of disbursements," she said. "We have a long term view on this and we're hoping to donate $1 million to groups working on long-term recovery."
Christie said there is a "competitive grants process" to allocate funding in three categories: filling in gaps between insurance, FEMA funds and loans; financial literacy and mental health.
When asked if there will be enough money to cover the critical needs of residents throughout the region, Christie said, "I guess people can say it's never enough. But we're in this for two or three years."
Point Pleasant Beach Councilman Stephen Reid was at both events. He said both companies are clients of his at MWW, a public relations agency that recently acquired the lobbying firm of Capital Public Affairs in Princeton, where Reid was a partner.
He acknowledged that many local residents want to know where the money is going from the numerous organizations, groups and fundraisers that have been springing up in the name of "Sandy victims" the last few months.
"That's what my wife asked me this morning," he said. "Where's the money?"
In the case of the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, that question is still being decided by staff overseeing the fund.
Christie said at least part of the funds will go to nonprofits that can help homeowners fill in "the gaps" between money they receive from their own insurance companies, as well as any state or federal loans or grants.
She said she realizes that the insurance payments and government assistance, for those who can even get that kind of help, will often not be enough to renovate and elevate homes to comply with new flood zone requirements.
For now, Christie is happy donations are streaming into the relief fund and that local businesses are encouraging additional donations. For example, at Jersey Mike's, there are signs posted all over the store asking customers to donate to the fund.
Christie's appearance at the sub shop was a kick-off event for Jersey Mike’s Month of Giving, which will once again be held in March. The Jersey Mike’s franchises in Monmouth and Ocean counties will donate a percentage of all money raised to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.
On March 27, 100% of all donations at Jersey Mike’s franchises in Monmouth and Ocean Counties will be donated to the fund. It's hoped the chain will raise about $100,000 for the relief fund, say company officials.
At Rite Aid, company officials and employees presented Christie with two giant checks. One was a $50,000 donation from the Rite Aid Foundation as well as $299,622.47 donated by Rite Aid customers and associates during its in-store fundraising campaign done nationwide last year.
Christie said, "Thanks to everyone at Rite Aid and thanks to everyone working hard to rebuild. Keep doing a great job at the Shore."
Rite Aid’s store in Lavallette, completely destroyed by Sandy, was rebuilt and reopened over the past month. It was the last store in the Jersey Shore region to re-open after Sandy, said David M. Mahan, Rite Aid's regional vice president who, with employees, presented the checks to Christie.
Jersey Mike's and Rite Aid connected with the First Lady's relief fund because they both contacted her staff about donating.
The list of members of the grants committee, who will decide where the relief fund's donations will go, are as follows, as reported by nj.com and confirmed by Mary Pat Christie's staff:
"Jerry Zaro: A well-connected Democratic attorney at Sills Cummis & Gross and economic czar under Gov. Jon Corzine who stayed on to close the office at the start of Christie’s term.
Paula Luff: Vice president of corporate social responsibility at the fuel company Hess, which donated $2.5 million to help kick off the fund. Hess CEO John Hess is a New Jersey native.
Sallie Anne George: Program officer at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest foundation in the state.
Eileen Kean: A veteran lobbyist with the firm Komjathy & Stewart who is active with the state GOP and several Monmouth County nonprofits. She attended law school with Christie, and is friends with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
Wendy Lazarus: A lobbyist at Pfizer with experience in corporate giving who sits on the board of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. She made a $1,000 donation to Christie’s campaign Dec. 31.
Roberto Mignone: Founder of the hedge fund Bridger Management."