Atlantic City schools were closed after Hurricane Sandy, but many teachers were still at work, helping school families in temporary shelters.
Almost two months later, Atlantic City Teachers United, a group of about 40 volunteers formed after the storm, is still helping, working every weekend to receive supplies and get them to families.
“I had volunteered with the Red Cross at the high school,” said Cinthya Llerena, a preschool coach and organizer of the group. “I was looking after my students, and I could see what families were going through losing their homes. I just wanted to jump in and start helping.”
The group helped coordinate food and clothing distributions at their schools, and has continued to distribute goods, sometimes even delivering to homes. Llerena’s husband, Christopher DiGuglielmo, spent most of a week delivering 206 mattresses donated by the Renaissance Hotel.
“We can squeeze five mattresses in my van,” she said.
The group has storage units in Galloway Township, and every weekend truckloads of supplies have come in from other states that must be unloaded and separated. Recently the group coordinated a toy drive, and Friday, after school, they will hold a holiday party at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church for more than 150 designated families that lost everything they owned.
“We still get calls every day,” she said.
She said the needs have changed with time. The first immediate needs were food and clothing. Then cleaning supplies for the homes. Now, as more families move back into their homes, they need to replace all they lost, from sheets and towels to pots, dishes and furniture.
She said a major ongoing concern is families moving back into homes and apartments that have not been adequately repaired. Some still don’t have heat, and while some got new carpeting, the drywall was not torn down and replaced.
“The kids come to school coughing,” she said. “I say, tell me about your house. And maybe they are cleaning with bleach, but that won’t be enough. Parents must be educated. Some have issues with their landlords, and they just keep cleaning with bleach to try to keep the mold out.”
Llerena said they have been overwhelmed by the continued generosity of local businesses and groups that have sent truckloads of supplies from Maryland, Virginia, Maine and New Hampshire. They are also touched by the gratitude of the families.
“We just want them to know they are not alone,” she said. “We won’t stop until they are all back on their feet.”
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