VENTNOR - A human conveyor belt prepared to assist thousands of Hurricane Sandy victims assembled early Monday morning at the Ventnor Community Center on Atlantic Avenue.
Immediately, the 100 volunteers manning stations throughout the center saw the need for their service and dozens of people lined S. Newport Avenue down to Atlantic Avenue waiting for one of the 50,000 meal bags prepared for them. Each prepackaged bag contained enough food for six meals.
That was just the beginning of the help available.
Spiritual music played from outdoor loudspeakers as people progressed through clothing stations with pants and tops laid out on blankets by size. Inside the community center were mounds of canned goods, cleaning supplies, dried foods, and baby supplies. Each person in need was paired with a volunteer who accompanied them from table to table. Outside, another team of volunteers was available to speak with victims and offer prayers for their needs.
The effort was made possible with volunteers from Way of Life Assembly of God church in Ventnor, Calvary Assembly of God Church in Willingboro, Burlington County, and Deliver the Difference, a Florida-based nonprofit that provides food to disaster areas.
"Some of the people here are hungry. Some of them are feeling pain. Some of them are broken in different ways," said James Macabeo, pastor of Way of Life Assembly of God church. "People can be made whole here. Regardless of who you are or where you're from we want that for you - to be whole. There's really no shortage when we all come together."
That sentiment was important for 37-year-old Mike Fredrick, of Atlantic City. He heeded evacuation orders and stayed in Absecon through the storm, but days later he returned to the first-floor Atlantic City apartment he shares with his wife and 2-year-old son to find everything destroyed, including furniture and appliances.
On Monday, Fredrick made his way through tables of donations and picked up bags of diapers for his son as well as food for his family.
"Everything's gone, but we're back at the apartment. We have to make it work," he said.
Wilma Fernandez spent the afternoon gathering clothes and paper towels for her family in trash bags. A tree fell on her Ventnor home in the storm, and she was still struggling with cleanup.
“We’ll be okay, I think,” she said.
For every volunteer at the Community Center on Monday, there were even more who provided help behind the scenes prior to Monday. Bob Bostic, executive director of Deliver the Difference, said 250 volunteers in Florida helped to package the 50,000 bagged meals available. Another 25 people made trips to wholesale retailers for needed supplies.
Bostic's organization is familiar with helping from far away, as it has been part of major disaster relief efforts, including the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. This time, however, the issue was also personal for Bostic who is from Ocean City but moved to Florida six years ago.
"This is my hometown. I saw what was going on, and I said 'How can we not help?'“ Bostic said.
Organizers said they weren't sure how many people had come through the Ventnor Community Center on Monday. No tallies were taken of the people who arrived, though volunteers did speak with each individually in an attempt to identify anyone who might need additional emotional support.
"Honestly, it wouldn't matter if five people came or thousands came," said Megan Hart, volunteer coordinator for Calvary Assembly church where donations have poured in for a week. "I just couldn't sleep at night thinking about the need out there. Together, look at what we were able to do in a week. God just worked it all out."