LEICESTER, Mass. — Every year for vacation, Carl and Lois Wicklund go on a bus trip with a group of friends. But when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey, instead of canceling their plans, the group helped bring together members from some of Leicester's churches and organize a relief mission to Atlantic City.
"We thought, well, let's make it a mission," said Lois Dorr-Wicklund. "We'll go down and ask all the people on the bus to donate something for the victims and we'll bring it down on the bus."
As word began to spread about the effort, support poured in from the Leicester community, with individuals, organizations and businesses donating $2,700 for relief.
"It turned into a big thing," said Dorr-Wicklund.
So big, in fact, that it didn't end after the first trip, and when they presented the check to the Parish of St. Augustine's in Atlantic City, the group promised to return with even more in December.
Along with Bonnie Keefe-Layden and Deborah Entwistle, the Wicklunds got two seven-passenger SUV's and filled them to the brim with another check for $550, warm clothes, cleaning supplies and 135 pairs of pajamas from Charlton Sewing Center.
In the next two days, the group not only delivered the donations to the church collection center, but also worked together to clear yards and buildings of the water-logged debris left from the storm.
Dorr-Wicklund said the the devastation was eye-opening.
"Everything was under water," she said. "You can't live in the houses. They're uninhabitable from the stench alone."
On Sunday, the group also attended church at St. Augustine, which had become the community's center for those in need of clothing or food.
During the service, 12 victims were chosen by the church leadership to receive a portion of the money raised in Leicester, and each one of them expressed heartfelt thanks to the group.
"Our mission was simply to help in some way those who were suffering, and we absolutely did not expect anyone to honor us in any way at all," said Dorr-Wicklund, adding that they wished they had even more to give them.
In the end, she said, the group left with a profound personal connection to the area through the church and victims they met.
"We also received a tentative promise to make a trip up from New Jersey to Leicester to meet our church community when all of their troubles settle down," added Dorr-Wicklund.