Toms River hoarding story ends in success, sadness

Toms River hoarding story ends in success, sadness

Amazing Toms River hoarding clean-up
Amazing Toms River hoarding clean-up

Led by a local nonprofit, volunteers did a remarkable job cleaning up the condemned home of longtime Toms River resident Larry Hecker. Jerry Carino

He didn’t live to see the amazing finished product, but Larry Hecker’s spirits were lifted by volunteers’ efforts to clean his condemned home.

 

TOMS RIVER – For the first time in years, you can see the floor in Larry Hecker’s home. You can sit on the couches and use the kitchen.

Just three months ago, when the Asbury Park Press spotlighted this ranch on Division Street, it was a hoarding nightmare. The 76-year-old Hecker was sleeping in his car because the place had been condemned. A local nonprofit had intervened, putting out a call for help.

More than 30 volunteers responded, filling a 40-cubic-yard dumpster with trash and hauling out an additional 10 truckloads of debris.

ORIGINAL STORY: A house condemned, but not a life

So now it’s livable again, but Hecker won’t be moving back. In a sad twist to this communal act of kindness, he died last week due to a post-surgery illness.“The greatest thing about the whole project and Larry said it best — he got his fight back,” said Paul Hulse of Haven/Beat the Street, a nonprofit that helps those facing homelessness in Ocean and Atlantic counties. “This brought that ray of hope to him. Life was meaningful again.”

In late March, as the volunteers started to make progress, Hecker expressed those sentiments in a video interview recorded by Haven/Beat the Street.

“I’m sitting at my desk, which I could not have done a week ago,” Hecker said at the time. “I didn’t think anybody in this county could or would help until Paul and his people came along and showed me there’s still some redemption in this world.”

People traveled from as far as Woodbridge to lend a hand each Saturday.

“A lot of the guys who helped were contractors — guys who we’ve helped through the ministry,” Hulse said. “We had helped them in their time of need, and they saw the project in the Press and wanted to be part of it.”

Hulse credited Paul Gifford, pastor of First Assembly of God Church in Toms River, for bringing Hecker’s plight to his attention and leading the cleanup. Members of Alive Again Alliance Church in Toms River also contributed. A motel owner in Seaside Park, who asked not to be named, housed Hecker while the work took place.

“It’s amazing because of all the hands that were involved,” Hulse said. “The volunteers, just when they heard Larry come in and say, ‘Man, I can sit down on my couch,’ that really inspired people.’”

Hecker’s niece, Lisa Morrison, toured the house last weekend and was amazed.

“I walked in and said, ‘Holy smokes, it doesn’t look like the same place,’” she said. “It had been horrific — newspapers and soda bottles everywhere. He probably belonged on one of those shows for hoarders.”

She added, “They did an amazing job. It’s actually livable there.”

In the end, the volunteers’ efforts impacted a heart as much as a home.

“He spoke very highly of them,” Morrison said. “It meant a lot to him.”

Toms River officials declared Larry Hecker’s home unsuitable for habitation. The 76-year-old is homeless while a group of goodwill ambassadors try to help. Jerry Carino

For more information on Haven/Beat the Streets, visit www.havenstreets.org.

Send tips for Carino’s Corner to jcarino@gannettnj.com.