Any other year, by mid-April, Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May Counties in Margate would have lined up at least three houses for its annual August house tour, and would have good leads for another three or four.
But this year, Jewish Family Service and other local sponsors of summer shore house tours are coming up against the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Some homes have been too damaged by the storm, or may not be repaired on time for the events in early August. Homeowners are exhausted from dealing with cleanup, insurance companies and contractors.
“We try not to show the same houses every year, and at this point we don’t have a lot of leads,” Beth Joseph, Jewish Family Service’s director of communications and donor relations, said of efforts to organize the group’s 26th annual tour of homes in the Downbeach area south of Albany Avenue in Atlantic City through Ventnor, Margate and Longport.
Organizers say they don’t want to cancel the tours, which raise tens of thousands of dollars for their sponsors. There is also the matter of pride in wanting to show they are coming back strong from the storm.
“We don’t want people to think we can’t have it because of the damage,” said Amy Carreno, public programs coordinator for the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences, which plans its tour for the first week in August.
She said the northern end of the island, where the tour’s homes are typically located, did not sustain a lot of damage, and the group already has four of the seven to 10 houses they need for the tour, more than they thought they would.
“Some homeowners are not around yet, so we have a positive outlook,” Carreno said. “We are on track.”
Ellen Kravet Burke, chairwoman of the Cape Regional Medical Center Foundation’s house tour, said she has three of the six or seven homes needed for the Aug. 10 event in Avalon and Stone Harbor. She’s optimistic she’ll get the rest but admits it has been more work this year. She said while most homes were spared, a lot of docks were destroyed, yards flooded and landscaping ruined.
“We have had some resistance,” Burke said. “We’ve put out so many emails and phone calls. A lot of people are waiting for contractors to get out of their backyard. They’ll say, ‘Call me back next summer; we’re not quite ready,’ and you have to respect that.”
Last year’s tour and health fair raised more than $51,000 for the Thomas and Claire Brodesser Cancer Center capital campaign and the purchase of a Varian True Beam system for treating cancer.
The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities in Cape May is doing only one Designer Show House, and it will be ready, spokeswoman Susan Krysiak said.
“It’s a brand new house,” located across the street from the Emlen Physick Estate, she said.
Susan Lutz, co-chairwoman of the Jewish Family Service house tour and owner of Bon-Ton Blinds and Interiors in Egg Harbor Township, said the group’s event typically raises about $50,000, so not holding it would mean a huge loss of funding. There is also more need this year, as the group has been very active in post-Sandy recovery efforts in the Ventnor and Margate area.
“I know how bad it has been for people whose homes are damaged,” Lutz said. “They come into the store, and their stories are horrible. But a lot of them don’t know when the contractors will be done. We often use builders for leads, and this year they can’t help either.”
She said the event attracts a lot of people from out of the area and would be a great way to show off recovery efforts. Some visitors had seen the destruction and would return to see how owners have rebuilt.
Organizers said volunteers are stationed in the homes during the tours, and the homeowner can remain anonymous. Lutz said they like to have a mix of homes, so both small and large, old and new homes are welcomed.
“People appreciate the differences,” she said. “Some homes are professionally decorated, others are not.”
Lutz said one thing all of the homeowners have in common is the pride they take in their homes, so she can understand their reluctance to participate unless the house is perfect. But, she said, the event is a wonderful day for a great cause, and she encourages homeowners to consider participating this year.
“We are all always smiling at the end of the day,” she said.
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