Toms River nonprofit recovering after 2nd fire in 2 years

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The offices for Hometown Heroes, based in Ocean County, have been destroyed in a fire for the second time. (WPVI)

It has been a double-dose of tragedy for a local nonprofit.

The offices for Hometown Heroes, based in Toms River, Ocean County, have been destroyed in a fire for the second time.

Mike Schwartz, the president of Hometown Heroes, is still in shock.

"It's surreal, to say the least, this is the second time in two years," Schwartz said.

Early Tuesday morning, the building where the nonprofit is based was destroyed by fire.

"We lost everything, from our records to our memorabilia. Not just desks and computers and chairs and things like that, it's our history," Schwartz said.

The organization is still recovering from a 2014 fire at another location in Toms River.

Hometown Heroes relocated to an old sea captain's home built in 1862, which it shared with a real estate office and an insurance adjuster.

The first fire was accidental. This one is still under investigation, but fire officials say it does not appear suspicious.

"Hometown is a great organization, hope it continues, hope it lands on its feet again," former board chairman Del Flanagan said.

Hometown Heroes was started in 2008 and helps those in need such as the homeless, veterans, the elderly, and thousands of Superstorm Sandy survivors.

"It's done so much good for so many people and to have this happen twice is a horror," former program director Jean Macron said.

Adding to the trouble is that the claim from the first fire hasn't been settled yet.

"Still fighting with insurance companies and attorneys on the last fire. It took a lot of effort and time and money to get in this building and rebuild what we lost. Now, that challenge is even more daunting," Schwartz said.

Real estate agent Jared Rhine's parents own the building that burned down. He's taking some comfort in the fact that a 200-year-old tree right next to the fire survived.

"Reminding us that we are still here, our lives are still going. Just cause our building's gone doesn't mean our family, friends and business won't survive through this crisis," Rhine said.

When the shock wears off, Hometown Heroes will be looking for a new office and hoping that the community will rally around as they start over yet again.
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