They came from as far away as Montana, Florida and Tennessee, making their way from damaged house to damaged house on the bay side of Atlantic City.
“When something like this happens, a lot of people want to do something, but they don’t know what to do,” said Jack Minton. “We prompt people before the events happen and offer simple training so when an event hits, we can be effective.”
Hope Force International, based in Brentwood, Tenn., was founded by Jack and Cherie Minton in 2003 as a way to train volunteers to be ready when a disaster occurs.
About 1,200 people from across the country volunteer their time, traveling from place to place when needed. In Venice Park on Friday, volunteers were at the lagoonside home of Marsha Moore to rip out drywall and carpets and help move things to the curb.
“I’ve been here since 1980,” Moore said. “And this was the first storm I’ve been through that affected me. Everything was so messy, messy, messy. I cried every day. Jack and Hope Force came around and said anything we needed, they would help us. They came around right away, and I said, ‘Oh my God. I know they’re angels.’ If you see the work done, it’s beautiful.”
Meanwhile, other volunteers were at another scheduled appointment on Caspian Avenue in Bungalow Park, but the resident had to work and wasn’t there. They waited to see whether a neighbor could get permission to open the door.
“Part of what we say in our training is, ‘A disaster scene is full of chaos,’” Minton said. “And now, four weeks out, the flexibility of people’s work schedules is not there. ... It happens. You start with Plan A, and you end up with Plan Z.”
Among the volunteers there, Charlie Minton said, were a couple from Montana and Rich Sheffield from Mount Union, Pa.
“His boss always gives him off,” Charlie Minton said. “He told him that he was part of a disaster-relief organization and he needed to have off when things happen, and his boss has been wonderful.”
At North Massachusetts Avenue, a few yards from Gardner’s Basin, Stacey Brown said he had almost two feet of water inside the house where he grew up.
“In ’62, (the water) came up, before I was born,” Brown said. “But I think this was worse. Actually, I know it’s worse. ... It is what it is. And I don’t have insurance, either. I went to Vineland for 10 days, and I’m waiting for FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to get back to me.”
Helping out Hope Force on Massachusetts Avenue was a group from the First Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Bartow, Fla., who drove north in a bus to spend Thanksgiving weekend helping residents. The group was contacted by Atlantic City Second Baptist Church pastor Collins Days.
“It was shocking just going around looking at it,” said Pastor Deryl Jones. “We were shocked everywhere. We expect two or three hurricanes a year in Florida, whether we get them or not.”
For a community like Atlantic City, which is not used to storms of such magnitude, “What we’re finding is many people did not appreciate what happened to them,” Jack Minton said. “Initially, they think, ‘We dodged a bullet, it was worse farther north, and all I have to do is air out my carpet.’ But this water was polluted, bad. Carpets that were saturated are not going to be saved, and the drywall has to be taken out.”
One of the most important things to do after flooding, he said, is to remove wall board at least one foot above the high-water mark — “the drywall acts like a sponge and soaks it right up,” he said. Once the drywall is out, remaining beams should be sprayed with anti-mold chemicals.
“Part of the skill set we develop is how to properly mediate flood damage. We were involved in rebuilding in Biloxi, Miss., after Katrina, and we’ve taken that expertise. ... You don’t have to do it alone.”
That experience is what Minton called a “terrible privilege” — and now some experienced locals want to pitch in and help out somewhere themselves.
“I’m thinking about joining them,” Moore said. “I’ve been blessed, and I want to give blessings back. That’s how I was raised.”
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