OCEAN CITY – A community organization, launched to help this seaside city recover from Hurricane Sandy, is being relaunched in response to a much different crisis.
Last week, Mayor Jay Gillian announced that OCNJ CARE would again be asked to help the city face COVID-19, an unprecedented pandemic affecting lives around the world.
In addition to the illness and death brought by the disease, the economic impact is projected to be immense. The extraordinary steps being taken throughout New Jersey and around the world to attempt to limit its spread will have further impacts, as schools and services close and people are told to isolate at home as much as possible.
In Ocean City, as throughout the country, the novel coronavirus has already meant extensive disruption to daily lives. For Andrew Fasy, chairman, OCNJ CARE, this is likely the calm before the storm.
The first step is getting the pieces in place, he said.
“We’re working on the infrastructure. We’re getting our teams together and retooling the website,” he said. “We’re in the organizational stage right now.”
Plans are to help those most at risk, including older adults, including shopping for groceries, picking up medication or doing other tasks for folks confined to home.
“Ocean City has a pretty good amount of seniors,” Fasy said. “They’ve been told they’re at risk. They’re hunkering down in their homes, but they still need groceries. They’ll still need their medicines.”
The plan is to pair those residents with a volunteer, hopefully someone from the same neighborhood, who can handle some of those tasks and allow the higher-risk individual to remain at home. That’s already happening throughout the city on an informal basis, he said, with neighbors looking after each other.
“The key for us is to not miss anybody,” he said.
Meet Basic Needs
Plans are to also help families meet basic needs. He said many school children rely on the free or assisted food programs through the school district, likely far more than many would imagine in a community often seen as affluent.
“I think those numbers would surprise some people,” he said.
Plans are to cook and deliver meals where they’re most needed, and to make sure Ocean City families can meet their basic needs. After Sandy, Fasy said, the group also offered counseling to those who needed it.
“There’s going to be a mental health piece to this, as well. People are home watching the damned news all day. They get scared,” he said.
Ward by Ward
The organization will tackle the city by ward, with ward captains coordinating the efforts. In this instance, it is going to be the City Council people for each ward, with former councilman, Assemblyman Antwan McClellan (R-1st) and City Council President Pete Madden taking on the 3rd ward. That seat has been vacant since McClellan was sworn in as a state assemblyman.
According to Fasy, Gillian was the inspiration for the original organization.
Even before the storm was over, he said, city officials knew some neighborhoods were hit hard just based on elevation.
“They had their hands full with cleaning up the city. They realized that there were going to be needs in the community that they weren’t going to be able to meet,” he said.
A local businessman, Fasy got recruited because he was involved in a number of organizations, including youth to the community center.
“And I’m not political. I think that came into play,” he said.
But Fasy sought to deflect any credit from the work. Sports and working on plans for renovations
“It was pretty extensive. There were hundreds of volunteers involved,” he said. “With Sandy, it was immediate needs; hot meals, groceries, and cleaning supplies were the initial task.”
Volunteers helped tear out sopping carpets and made sure people were dry, fed and warm. Then the work moved to longer-term needs, finding housing for people while their homes were gutted and restored, working on setting up counseling, especially for children.
Floodwaters from Sandy devastated homes throughout the community, requiring a long period of recovery. While some of the needs might be similar, Fasy said this will be a far different task.
After Sandy, volunteers went door to door in neighborhoods where the flooding was the worst, assessing needs and checking on individuals. Facing a dangerous contagion, volunteers this time will need to limit contact and take precautions.
Organizers met to discuss priorities and make plans. Part of that process will be to set protocols for volunteers dealing with other residents to minimize the risk of spreading the virus while trying to protect lives.
OCNJ CARE is working with the Chamber of Commerce and with the city, which in turn is in contact with state and county officials.
When the pandemic crisis passes, which it will, the group also plans to address the economic impact.
Most of the town’s economy is made up of small businesses, usually family-owned and relying on a thin profit margin each year, he said.
He’s confident the local economy will bounce back, but he said the organization wants to help employers and workers hold out until then.
Plans are for the organization to have its own website soon, but in the meantime, more details and a way to donate can be found at www.ocnj.us/ocnjcare.
To contact Bill Barlow, email email@example.com.
Those interested in volunteering or those who need help can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 609-399-6111, the number for City Hall.
The organization is a registered non-profit and donations are tax deductible.