In storm-tossed Atlantic City, pastor leads effort to shine beacons of hope

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Not long after Superstorm Sandy hit Atlantic City, the casinos reopened for business while many city residents found themselves surrounded by debris. During that time, several local churches rounded up volunteers from far and near to help displaced residents. They delivered food and dry goods, mucked out homes, and started to rebuild nail-by-nail.

In November, as the volunteer efforts began to take shape, Pastor Collins Days of Atlantic City’s Second Baptist Church emerged as one of the main organizers.  

One year later, he chairs the board of the Atlantic City Long Term Recovery Group, established to help the city’s lowest-income residents rebuild and replace their flood-damaged homes.

For Days, that’s meant countless meetings, phone calls, and even hitting the road to generate donations and volunteers.

“So I’m personally crisscrossing the East Coast, meeting with churches, going to conventions and various mission groups. We have the material and resources; we just don’t have the people and hands. We still need more because we have another 150 houses coming down the pipeline,” said Days.

Ask him about the rebuilding process, and he’ll tell you — it’s been slow. In some cases, he said, homeowners ran out of money or might have had started out with none. Others hired unqualified contractors or simply put off what had to be done and are now desperate for help.

“When a house is closed, when a senior citizen is helped, when someone calls me to say we got their heat on before the winter sets in, that’s just so encouraging and re-energizes me again,” Days said. “I can’t rest comfortably knowing that there’s still persons using half their house or not in their homes.”  

Several members of Days’ congregation have struggled this past year to repair their homes. Delores Peoples still can’t live on the first floor of her home. It flooded during the storm, and she’s spent the last year living upstairs with one of her sons.

“So far, we have gotten along,” she laughed. “We haven’t murdered each other so far. He’s a good young man, and due to this, we’ve gotten closer together. So with things I was able to salvage, he put it in one of our garages.

“The majority of my furniture, Sandy took a toll on it,” she said. “But that’s all right because it was just stuff.”

Betty Lewis, another member of the congregation, is still waiting for an insurance payout to fix her roof, which was destroyed in the storm. In the meantime, she has turned to the community for support to get her house back in shape.

“I’ve gained the knowledge of knowing that mankind does care about another,” she said. “I’m stronger than I thought I was. This is not going to break me. And I gained some patience I didn’t have before.”  

The Atlantic City Long Term Recovery Group doesn’t see an end to its work. Earlier this fall, the group received a donation from the Red Cross for $586,000. The funding will go toward repairing and rebuilding 100 Atlantic City houses and providing case management to an additional 150 families needing help with rent payments or obtaining new furnishings.

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