CENTRAL JERSEY -- A local couple saw the kindness of strangers in January when people donated clothes and other items to them after their house burned to the ground from a fireplace fire—and now in the wake of the , they are just trying to pay it forward.
“I woke up Saturday morning with tears in my eyes,” Robert Young, of Bridgewater, said. “I turned to my wife in bed, and said, ‘Let’s go.’ She asked where, and I said we’re going to Newtown because we have to do something to help.”
Young and his wife, Lucrecia Young, headed out on the drive to Connecticut, planning to do whatever they could to help those devastated after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took the lives of 20 children and six adults.
On the way, Young enlisted the help of some others looking to donate what they could.
“I was hungry on the way, so I stopped in Burger King in Pluckemin,” he said. “I asked the fellow there, by chance since I was going to a disaster scene, would they have anything I could take with me to give to the people.”
Young walked out of the restaurant with two large bags of fresh hamburger rolls, and a big bag of the plastic toys they give out with children’s meals.
Then, Young said, he needed to get a little cash, so he headed over to the Bank of America in Pluckemin—and walked out with even more for the kids.
“They had a big bowl of lollipops and I asked the manager,” he said. “He filled a big plastic bag with lollipops for me.”
Young said he took all of those items, and he and his wife headed up to Newtown.
“I was going out that afternoon to give those people a big hug,” he said.
When they arrived in Newtown, Young and his wife visited the local counseling center.
“The Red Cross is there, and the woman said it must have been a blessing because someone dropped off hamburger patties, but they had no rolls,” he said. “I said, ‘Here, God brought you your rolls.’”
In the counseling center, where parents were gathered with their children, Young gave out the toys from Burger King, and stayed with the children as they sat and colored.
Young said after going through his own tragedy earlier this year, he had to figure out a way to help others in this tough time.
In January, Young said he had a fire going at his home on Route 206 near Foothill Road inside the fireplace and it caught sparks through the flue in the attic. In minutes, he said, it was a six-alarm blaze that burned the house to the ground.
Friends and other residents, Young said, helped them by giving free clothing and furniture while he and his wife moved into a rental home on Milltown Road during the reconstruction of their house, which is now nearing completion.
Young said he was touched by the support he received during that difficult time, and just wanted to find a way to give back.
“Because we went through a tragedy, I had to go up there and do something,” he said. “I tried to figure out a way I could touch people.”
That, Young said, involved just showing people he cared.
In his Jeep, he said he had an easel, and he made a sign that read, “Bridgewater, NJ Love and Sympathy.”
“I stood on a major intersection corridor with my sign,” he said. “I wanted people up there to know that people from other states were thinking about them.”
He noticed as people stopped in the intersection at the traffic light they would read the sign, and many burst into tears.
“I felt that I got to them,” he said. “They felt that somebody is here.”
“I stayed there for an hour-and-a-half, and I cried my eyes out, too,” he added.
As he and his wife left the area, Young said, they stopped at a local diner for a meal, and some of the people who had seen him standing on the side of the road came up to thank them.
“They thanked us for coming up from New Jersey,” he said. “Those people need that right now.”
Young said he believes it is important to show the residents of Newtown they have the support of people from all over.
“We are letting them see, with out-of-staters coming, that we’re all one,” he said. “We’re all individuals, but we are all one no matter what religion, color, we all come from the same place somewhere.”
And Young—who has a 47-year-old daughter, a 27-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son—said he understands this tragedy could happen anywhere.
“We thought, this could happen in Bridgewater,” he said. “It doesn’t always happen in other areas or to other people.”
Now, Young said, he is trying to figure out what else he can do.
First, Young spent a little time outside his almost completely rebuilt home on Route 206 Monday, holding the same sign in front of a shrine he put together with a poinsettia plant and the images of those who were killed Friday.
“And I held a big cardboard sign that says, ‘Hug Your Kids,’” he said.
But, Young wants to do more, and is considering driving back up to Connecticut Tuesday, or at some point when he can find something else to bring to the grieving people there.
“I feel we did good,” he said. “I just wish I could have done more. I am trying now to think of what we can do if we go up there again.”