First came the storm, which oozed water into the old school next to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, now used as a warehouse.
Then came the after-storm surge of residents in need of assistance, a flood of people that shows no sign of slowing.
“We got back in here on Friday (Nov. 2) to start ripping out the carpets, and on Saturday the donations started coming in,” said Tom Davidson, the mission’s director of development. “We’re giving out as many food baskets in a day now as we used to give out in a month.”
That comes to at least 250 baskets daily to people who line up outside the warehouse door at 10 a.m. each morning.
“We expect to have to keep that up for at least a couple of months,” Davidson said. “Some people may be unemployed for that long.”
The pace is taking its toll. Despite a steady stream of volunteers, some from out of state, the staff of 47 full- and part-time employees is working nonstop to keep up with demand. Warehouse managers Tim Hunt and Teddy Spady had damage to their own homes that they have had little time to address.
“We could do this 24 hours a day, and for a while we did,” Davidson said.
The mission has cut back the hours for food distribution to 10-11:30 a.m. daily to give workers more time to make up the “baskets”: large heavyweight trash bags filled with enough food to last a family of three for several days. The mission has also taken supplies to area schools and has outreach chaplains going door to door to meet personally with affected residents.
“Not everyone who lives here has a photo ID with their address,” he said. “Some are undocumented. Our chaplains will meet with them, see what they need, then give them a card they can bring here to get assistance.”
The mission is limiting its services to city residents. Davidson said that, as in any disaster, there are people trying to take advantage of the system, so the personal contact also serves as a screening mechanism to target the most seriously affected residents.
The mission itself is currently not at capacity. Some residents left during the evacuation or are being housed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But the mission did get some people back after the Atlantic City Convention Center closed its shelter, and there are about 250 men, 12 mothers and 22 children living at the Bacharach Avenue site. Housing locator Debbie Lewis works with displaced residents to find them new homes, which also may get more challenging.
“We will probably get more people as the weather gets colder,” Davidson said. “That is a concern.”
Blankets and coats are always in demand and are distributed daily. People who need regular clothing work with the outreach chaplains to get it on Wednesdays.
Last week, volunteers sorted through boxes and trash bags filled with donated clothing, sorting it by size and weeding out anything too stained or torn.
“I figure if I’d wear it, it’s good,” said Christina Speciale, one of six volunteers from Weatherworks in Hackettstown, Warren County, who have assisted at several disaster recovery sites.
“We helped predict the storm, and now we’re helping clean up from it,” she said.
Davidson said the mission can use clothing but asked that donors limit selections to warm winter items such as sweaters because the facility doesn’t have the storage space for items not in season.
“Someone gave us two boxes filled with flip flops,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief.
The food pantry has grown to meet the need, with canned goods filling two rooms. Davidson is trying to make room for turkeys for holiday food baskets. He hopes he gets enough. They have a room with furniture, but many residents are still cleaning up, so it may be a week or two before that gets distributed and frees up more space for food. The mission gets some supplies from the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, but it can always use more.
Davidson said they could also use more volunteers during the week, especially some with skills to help organize the post-storm efforts. The warehouse is not heated, so they should dress warmly. Individuals can show up anytime, and there will be work for them, he said. Larger groups are asked to call ahead so plans can be made to accommodate them, especially on weekends.
“During the week, people can pretty much just show up,” Davidson said. “We have plenty to do. This is larger than anything we’ve ever dealt with.”
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