NORTH WILDWOOD -- Chris Gaspari lost everything when Hurricane Sandy took his home in Seaside Heights, but he’s transformed from a victim displaced by a storm to a volunteer helping others.
Gaspari said he was shipped to a hotel in Wildwood but he was so impressed with relief efforts that he is now volunteering for about seven hours a day at the firehouse on Central Avenue. He now feels fortunate.
“I was blessed. The whole town welcomed me and got me clothes, food and shelter,” said Gaspari.
About 150 families are staying in four Wildwood motels and hotels, most from shore towns in northern Ocean County. They are getting supplies from a storm relief program centered at the firehouse, which has seen trucks from as far away as Virginia and Washington DC arrive with supplies.
Atlantic City hotels were also providing temporary shelter through FEMA for about 100 people previously sheltered at the Atlantic City Convention Center, the municipal’s Office of Emergency Management Director Tom Foley said Wednesday.
In Cape May County, Megan Rogers, a Wildwood Crest resident who is part of the effort, said close nearly 150 families from Seaside Heights and Seaside Park were shipped down here on buses.
“The first week it was Cape May County residents and now we’re helping others. Three more buses came today,” Rogers said.
The hotels and motels, most of which were closing for the season, made themselves available to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, though some staying at them will not be covered under federal funding.
Two of the hotels, the Blue Palms and the StarLux Hotel, owned by the Morey organization, which also runs amusement parks here, are not worried about being paid. Hotel manager Gordon Clark said 80 percent of those staying at the Blue Palms will not qualify to be covered by FEMA assistance.
“They have no place to go. The Moreys are prepared to take a hit here. The question is how long will food be donated. That’s sort of the $6 million question,” said Clark.
For now supplies are flowing in. This even includes baby food and diapers for infants and pet food for dogs and cats.
Clark said he initially expected maybe eight families at the most.
“The next thing I know Toms River High School, North and South, asked for rooms for 350 people,” said Clark.
The stories, people living in cars for a week, and losing everything, have touched him. He said when they arrive to a clean hotel room, food and fresh clothing it is a sight to see.
“It’s people like you and me who have lost their homes and it’s across all demographic lines,” Clark said.
Foley said hotels in Atlantic City have been generous in putting themselves on FEMA’s list.
“We’re just trying to get everyone settled back in, and back home,” Foley said.
FEMA has so far placed people in transitional housing within days – instead of the typical weeks – of registering with the federal agency, Foley said.
Once people register, FEMA sends inspectors to assess their homes before they can set up the temporary hotel stay.
Foley and other officials hope that happens for the 172 people remaining Wednesday night at the Convention Center shelter so they can meet their goal of closing it tonight.
Atlantic City Public Safety Director Will Glass is coordinating shelter operation efforts by police, volunteers, American Red Cross, emergency medical service personnel, and firefighters under the command of Deputy Chief Vincent Granese and Capt. Angelo DeMaio.
Rogers said other hotels housing families include the Esplanade Suites Hotel and the Castaways Motel. Area restaurants have even been supplying hot meals. To do this, call Clark at (609) 602-5778. Donations can also be dropped off at the firehouse.
Staff Writer Emily Previti contributed to this report.