Hurricane rescue centers extend work as pace of recovery drags
The temperature outside St.James Church Hall in Ventnor was barely into the 30s Thursday morning, but a line of about 25 people waited for the doors to open at 11 a.m.
Inside, the unheated hall seemed not much warmer, but Jewish Family Services volunteer Portia Parto was cheerful as she bagged food and sorted blankets for the waiting crowd.
“Nothing happened on my street in Margate,” said Parto, the mother of three, who has volunteered almost daily since Hurricane Sandy hit the shore. “It does seem like it’s over. But then you come here and see what people still need.”
For those still living through it, the effects of Hurricane Sandy are far from over. Some still don’t have heat. Others are living in temporary quarters while figuring out if and how they can rebuild. Some residents whose homes were spared found their jobs were affected and are now either on reduced hours or unemployed.
The truckloads of donations from around the country that arrived daily during November and into December have slowed. But several groups formed to help during the storm, who thought they would be done by the end of December, now plan to continue at least another month, and likely through the winter, relying on volunteers such as Parto.
“I really don’t know many people who would keep coming to do this,” Beth Joseph, director of communications for JFS, said. “But we have a good core group that comes pretty regularly.”
Parto, recently named the JFS Volunteer of the Year, began volunteering at the JFS office in Margate right after the storm. When it soon became clear the small room there was insufficient, she helped arrange for the use of St.James Church hall, where she has since shown up almost daily to help distribute food, toiletries and paper products.
The JFS is helping with FEMA applications and offering mental health services, but it has cut hours to 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Hooked on Ventnor is still operating a distribution site and counseling service at the Ventnor Community Building from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays and is doing cleanup and remediation of homes, coordinator Mike Advena said. It is developing a reconstruction program to help people rebuild.
“We’re getting the holdouts now, people who thought they could handle it all on their own, but now realize they can’t,” Advena said.
Jeff Melchiondo Jr., of Barnegat DOVE (Division of Volunteer Efforts), was busy packing this week, but not because the group’s donation site at Gunning River Mall in Barnegat was closing but to move to another storefront.
“We are still collecting donations,” his father, Jeff Melchiondo Sr., said. “We’ve got stuff from Virginia, Massachusetts and Maryland. But we’re still distributing a lot of stuff on a daily basis. There is still a constant need. People are trying to rebuild, but if they lost their jobs, they have no income.”
AmeriCorps teams and volunteers continue to clean out homes and tear out drywall in the greater Atlantic City area, and are expected to stay into February.
“We still have a workload,” worker Sam Trevino said. “And we are still accepting clients.”
Work by the nonprofit Ocean City Cleanup and Recovery Effort (OCNJ CARE) is slowing but continues to be active, said Caitlin Greene, of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, a central site for the citywide effort. She said people are still looking for housing.
“For some, their FEMA money has run out, or they were living in a temporary site and now have to move,” she said.
Cape May County government will keep donation containers at all county facilities through March to meet the need at food pantries throughout the county. County communications Director Lenora Boninfante said they typically help the pantries, but the need has been greater this year, because more than 400 families relocated to hotels.
For some, it can be hard to separate those affected by Sandy from those typically affected by poverty and the slower winter economy.
“We’re just seeing more,” said Tom Davidson, director of development at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission. “There are more requests for food, clothing, and there were more requests this year for children’s gifts at Christmas.”
He said the mission is typically full this time of year, and 2013 is no exception. He has benefited from having some AmeriCorps workers come to help, but the mission can always use volunteers. This week’s cold temperatures have triggered a “code blue” to try to bring everyone indoors.
“We are packed like sardines,” Davidson said.
Blankets donated by Kirkland Home Decor in Mays Landing were eagerly snapped up by families at St. James Church. Parto had to repeat many times that she could only allocate one per family, often gesturing to families who spoke little English.
Several area churches are still working with victims as needed, operating food pantries and offering referrals to families waiting to rebuild. St. James AME Church in Atlantic City had about 80 people come to its food distribution in late December, so it is planning another in January.
‘The coats went quick, and food is always needed,”church member Rhonda Hart said. “Some people haven’t gotten insurance money yet, so they can’t buy new appliances or furniture, or make repairs. It’s starting to be the big-ticket items people need.”
Melchiondo said his family and crew of volunteers will keep helping as long as there is a need.
“I talk to people every day,” he said. “And they still have horror stories.”
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