Social-service and nonprofit agencies in South Jersey are organizing Hurricane Sandy Long-Term Recovery Groups that will be a centralized resource for residents as they continue to rebuild after the storm.

Each county will have a LTRG, which will take over services after FEMA leaves, around March 1. The groups are an official part of the FEMA disaster recovery process and will have access to grant funding.

Group participants are wide ranging and include national organizations, such as the Red Cross, Americorps, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, and local churches and nonprofits.

Services will include cleaning up and helping to rebuild homes for people with no or insufficient insurance, providing furniture and appliances, and offering mental health services for dealing with the stress. They will coordinate fundraising and funnel funds to where they are needed.

“The major concern is getting resources,” Henry Wise, chairman of the Atlantic County LTRG and Salvation Army Regional Disaster Coordinator. Wise also chairs the Tri-County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, which has been working on relief efforts since the storm. The new LTRGs are the next step in the process.

The groups are just getting organized in each county. Wise said there are committees within each group focusing on specific needs. The first step will be doing an assessment to get the total picture of what is needed in the county.

“The need is always greater than the resources available. Our job is to get the resources,” he said.

The Ocean County LTRG is being coordinated through O.C.E.A.N. Inc. in Toms River. Meghan Wren of the Bayshore Discovery Project is acting co-chairwoman of the Cumberland County group, and Barry Keefe of the Cape May County Human Services Office is co-chairing that county’s group.

Keefe invited groups interested in helping to attend an organizational meeting at the Atlantic Cape Community College campus in Cape May Court House at 10 a.m. Feb. 22, when officers will be elected. He said about 50 people have been attending the first meetings. They also plan to begin with a countywide outreach effort to assess needs.

Wren said they are working through the Red Cross, but because most of the damage in Cumberland was along the bayshore, they hope to set up an office and dedicated phone line in Bivalve to be accessible to area residents.

Fran Wise, director of community investments for the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey in Atlantic County, said their goals are to generate funds and volunteer resources, make sure they get used effectively and avoid duplication of effort.

As the groups get established, residents can call the 211 statewide nonemergency hotline to request assistance and be referred to a local agency. Henry Wise said residents should also make sure they apply for FEMA aid or SBA loans by the deadlines, even if they are not sure they will need them. He said rebuilding will take time.

“We expect to be doing this for at least a couple of years,” he said.

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