At about 9:30 a.m., Roberts and Councilman Michael Russo were part of a group that embarked on a 30-hour, 1,300-mile journey toward Kenner, La., a town devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
"Just as the nation reached out to New York and the surrounding areas after September 11, now it's important that we repay that favor and reach out to them in their time of need," Roberts said Thursday, after his return.
The items had been collected at points around the city over the last two weeks. In addition, local organizations and schools held fundraising drives.
The city of Kenner, with a population of 70,000, is about 15 miles west of New Orleans and is home to the Louis Armstrong International Airport. In an effort to help its residents, the Hoboken municipal government recently passed a resolution to "adopt" Kenner.
There have been collection sites at City Hall and around the city for the last two weeks, where local residents have dropped off baby products and other items. The supplies filled a huge trailer.
On Tuesday, Roberts met with Kenner Mayor Phil Capitano, local community leaders, and schoolchildren. He was also given a police escort of some of the most damaged parts of New Orleans, La. Roberts said Thursday that he was overwhelmed by the amount of damage in New Orleans and in Keener.
"It was very surreal, almost like it was during the days following the attacks of 9/11," Roberts said. "It was hard to understand and process that kind of devastation. We saw block after block after block of homes ravaged by flooding and wind. Their road to recovery is going to be a long one."
While he was taken aback by the destruction, he said that he was encouraged by the spirit of the residents of Louisiana.
"I commend [Kenner] Mayor [Phil] Capitano for keeping a stiff upper lip and for his commitment to start again and to rebuild his community," Roberts said.
Hoboken, doing its part
Roberts added that by adopting Keener, Hobokenites have a community to identify with. In fact, just like Hoboken, Keener is celebrating its 150th anniversary as a city this year.
"By adopting Keener there is a definable community where we can actually see the benefit of our relief effort," Roberts said. Also going along on the trip were Eugene Flinn, the owner of Amanda's restaurant and the Elysian Café; George Vallone Sr., a local developer, who drove the truck; and a number of Hoboken Police Department officers who stayed in Louisiana an extra week to aid law enforcement officials there, said city officials.
Flynn said that the trip was eye-opening, but well worth taking. "I think the fact symbolic fact that we made the trip was almost as valuable as the supplies in the truck," Flinn said.
Roberts thanked the Hoboken community for their tremendous support.
From the whole community
Roberts said that good will came from all areas of Hoboken, young and old.
Hoboken veterans donated $1,000 for the veterans in Keener, while a local Boy Scout Troop, led by Scoutmaster Norman Kasser, collected money at the recent Arts and Music Festival.
Also, the students at the All Saints Episcopal School took a collection and painted a huge banner that was presented to an official in Keener. Roberts also thanked Hoboken resident Sara Stojkovic, who originated the idea to adopt Kenner and was very active in collecting donations, and Councilman Christopher Campos, who sponsored the City Council resolution to adopt Keener.
Additionally, Roberts praised Hoboken Parking Authority head John Corea, Board of Education member Frank Raia, and the other volunteers that helped load the truck.