They came to Central Regional High School by the hundreds on Sunday morning. Most were weary and battered by almost three weeks of lives uprooted by Hurricane Sandy.
They came from Good Luck Point, Glen Cove, Bayville, South Seaside Park and Pelican Island.
But inside the school gym they found faith, hope and charity, provided by volunteers from the nonprofit Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. Tzu Chi literally means "compassionate relief."
Each resident who passed a police checkpoint and provided proof they lived in storm-shattered sections of Berkeley Township received up to $600 in debit gift cards, a fleece blanket, toiletries, toothbrushes, smiles and words of encouragement.
Steven Huang, Tzu Chi's chief of operations, flew in from Taiwan to help coordinate efforts across New Jersey.
"God bless America," he said. "God bless all of you."
Tzu Chi's United States headquarters is in San Dimas, California and oversees more than 80 offices around the country. Volunteers pay for their own gas and hotel rooms when they respond to disasters, said Kevin Hsing Tao-Dai.
"Most of the volunteers here are from New Jersey," he said. "We all have jobs. If we do travel for events like this, we pay our own way."
The volunteers spanned out across different areas of the Central Regional gym, directing residents to verification stations. They guided residents to where they had to go. Many bowed before the people they came to help.
The volunteers had only one request.
They asked residents to take the donation banks included in their distribution bags, and add a little change to them every day. When the banks are filled, the volunteers asked that they donate to the charity of their choice.
"When you are back on your feet again, donate a little every day," one volunteer told the residents. "Pass it on."
Central Regional Schools Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides praised the members of the Central Regional Board of Education, who didn't hesitate to offer the high school as a public shelter once power returned.
"Three out of our nine members lost their homes," he told the crowd, choking up at times.
What Parlapanides didn't mention is that he lost his own home in Seaside Park.
"We are going to rise again," he said. "I can't applaud this organization enough. It's the little things in life that matter. It's been a long two weeks."
Police Chief Karin T. DiMichele had a message for residents.
"I want you to look at your neighbors," she said. "I want you to be kind to each other. The aftermath of the storm is just as bad as the storm itself."
She praised township officials who gave the police department permission to do whatever had to be done.
"Mayor, I thank you for that," she said to Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr.
"And Dr. P., who has been here around the clock," DiMichele said, turning to Parlapanides. "I just want to say thank you to Tommy P."
DiMichele also thanked South Toms River Mayor Joseph M. Champagne for helping make it possible for Tzu Chi to come to Bayville.
"If it were not for him and Chief Andrew Izatt notifying me of this organization, we would not be here," DiMichele said.
Amato told the crowd the township was committed to making the rebuilding process "as easy as it can be."
"Thank you so much," he told the volunteers. "Public works has been working 16 hours a day on the cleanup. Our police department is providing security. In times like this, a community comes together. I could not be more proud."
Glen Cove resident Barbara Jacobs sat patiently on the bleachers, waiting for number 157 to be called. A medical transcriptionist at Riverview Hospital in Red Bank, she was flooded out of the Butler Boulevard home she has rented for 22 years.
Her ranch home built on a concrete slab had two and a half feet of water in it.
"There's a lot of mud and sludge," she said. "You could smell it coming up the driveway."
Jacobs doesn't know when, if ever, she will be able to return.
The belongings she managed to save are in a nearby storage facility. The Church of Grace and Peace in Toms River helped her move items out and paid the first two months rent for storage, she said.
"Even before we saw the place, God had already helped us out," Jacobs said.