Orlando Ebanks, his wife and three children are still living in a Howard Johnson’s hotel room in West Atlantic City, but he’s hoping they’ll be back in their Atlantic City apartment soon.
“We got flooded all the way out, but the landlord is in there working, and it’s almost done,” said Ebanks as he tied three sets of donated mattresses into a pickup truck he borrowed from a relative. “I really appreciate this.”
Five tractor-trailers with slightly used mattresses and furniture were distributed at Surf Stadium on Wednesday as part of a relief effort organized by Atlantic City law firm Cooper Levenson, which has been working with the city’s schools to identify and help local families.
School Superintendent Donna Haye said school principals surveyed their families and their needs. About 1,500 have been identified as affected by the storm and subsequent flooding. Families had to get vouchers from the schools for the mattresses and furniture to make sure they went to those most in need. School maintenance and security staff monitored the process at Surf Stadium, and helped staff from Cooper Levenson get the items off the trucks and distributed to waiting families.
Ken Calemmo, of Cooper Levenson, who is coordinating their drive, worked up a sweat unloading mattresses. He said the donor was a local contractor who wished to remain anonymous. Atlantic Coast Moving and Storage provided the trucks to make the delivery.
Families eagerly lined up for the items, even as they tried to figure out how to get them home. Mattresses were tied to roofs. Chairs, end tables, small dressers and even sofas were stuffed into the backs of mini-vans or loaded onto trucks.
Rhianna Pena, of Margate, helped load furniture for a friend, her husband and three children. Pena said the family had planned to move to a larger apartment in Atlantic City before the storm. While the new apartment did not get flooded, the old one did, destroying all their belongings.
“They lost everything, but at least now they have a little bit to put in the new apartment,” she said.
Haye said donors have been generous, and they are now in the process of moving what is left from the schools to the district’s Indiana Avenue annex as a central location all schools can access.
“We want the schools to get back to being schools,” she said. The Parent Centers will continue to provide assistance and referrals to families as needed.
While families have been able to get used clothing at the schools, Haye is also encouraging donations of the school uniform — navy collared polo shirts and navy or khaki pants — so the students can get back into their clothing routine. She said she would like to restore the district’s uniform policy in January, but will see how families are recovering before making a decision.
“We want the children in school and no one is being turned away if they do not have a uniform,” she said. “But we are trying to get back to normal.”
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