Pay It Forward Mobile Provides Connections in Times of Need

New Jersey organization offers relief service through mobile.

By Sheldon Jones on November 13, 2013

When a derecho, which is a widespread, long-lived wind storm, struck the Jersey Shore in June 2012, residents Jack and Christine Gerbehy lost power and the façade of their home. Then, in October 2012, when Superstorm Sandy hit, the Gerbehys once again lost power for weeks.

The experience and devastation Jack witnessed in the area inspired him to get involved and help coordinate food and water drives. Jack, however, noticed another aspect that was suffering due to the storm: communications.

Inspired by the laundry trucks, charging trucks, and other food and water trucks deployed by national companies after the storm, Jack developed the idea of Pay It Forward Mobile. The non-profit would provide a way to let community members charge devices and access the Internet to let friends and family know they are okay following times of crisis.

With hard work, the perfect vehicle, and the support of Verizon Wireless, Jack was able to turn the idea into reality. In July 2013, the nonprofit Pay It Forward Mobile launched in a 26-foot-long retired fire truck equipped with three mobile hotspots that provide high-speed 4G LTE connectivity to Wi-Fi-enabled devices.

The Gerbehys set a goal of visiting at least one community a week to offer services. Since August 2013, Pay It Forward Mobile has visited nearly 25 communities, offering charging stations and wireless connections at street fairs, shopping centers and other community locations when there isn’t a crisis. In times of disaster, the Gerbehys take Pay It Forward Mobile to locations where it’s needed. At every stop, donations for the HopeLine from Verizon program are accepted. HopeLine is a re-use and recycling program that turns no-longer-used wireless phones and accessories into support for domestic violence victims and survivors.

Residents are often surprised by the truck and Jack’s mission, but that is okay with Jack.

“There is disbelief at first, as to why anyone would take money of out their pocket and expect nothing in return,” said Jack. “But in the end, you can see the light go on, and even for just that moment, they want to be part of something bigger, the ‘pay it forward’ movement.”