The shelter in the Atlantic City Convention Center shelter is a huge sprawling hall with a constant wave of people arriving and leaving in a regular ebb and flow each day. Some families have just arrived from other shelters, some go back to devastated houses, and some come back to stay for what might be weeks.
Many of those who come to shelters in New Jersey—like this one run by the Red Cross—are families who can least afford to lose a week’s wages, a refrigerator of food, or a room full of furniture, much less a house or apartment. They are working class or poor families, usually with kids. As is the case here in Atlantic City, kids make up at least 25% of the population in shelters in affected areas.
I met many of these kids on my visit today and they all had stories to share.
Alondra is 17. She and her extended family—mom, dad, uncle, aunt, siblings and cousins—have an area with cots pushed together in one corner of the hall. She told me how she had first gone to a shelter at Rutgers University the weekend before the storm when they heard about the threat to the area where they lived in downtown Atlantic City. But now Rutgers needs to get students back to class and her family was bused to the Atlantic City shelter yesterday. While they were grateful for the cots, blankets and food, Alondra, a bright high school senior, was worried about how she would get to school later in the week when classes finally started up again.
And Alondra wasn’t the only one who hoping to be back to school. A younger boy I met gave me a tearful look when I mentioned school and told me, “I really want to go back but I just don’t know when I can. I miss my friends and I don’t even know how they are. Do you think they are okay?” I told him I was sure they were and that Save the Children was working on getting kids transportation for when schools got back up and running, so hopefully he can be back with his friends soon.
There were so many stories from kids today about how they’re dealing with the after-effects of Superstorm Sandy, but one that really struck me came from 14 year-old Peter. Peter also lived in Atlantic City and described the scene when he and his family went back to see his house after the storm passed. “The water rose almost five feet and we only have one floor so everything was ruined. They condemned my house yesterday,” he told me stoically. Peter and his family have nowhere else to go at this point, but Peter is spending his time working with the Save the Children team in the shelter, playing with the younger kids and keeping them busy in the Child-Friendly Space we set up on one edge of the family area. Here, at least, kids can play games and do activities and just be kids at least for a little while.
Save the Children has mobilized to help children and families affected by Sandy. We are setting up Child-Friendly Spaces—safe play areas that allow children to play, socialize, and begin to recover from emotional distress during emergencies—in New Jersey and New York. And we’re working with national partners, including the American Red Cross and FEMA, to assess and address the needs of children in the storm’s aftermath.
We’re also asking our supporters to do what they can to help children. We’re asking them to text HURRICANE to 20222 to donate $10 to Hurricane Sandy Relief from their mobile phones*or to donate through our webpage.
Save the Children responds to emergencies in the U.S. and around the world every year—and this time, it’s in our own backyard. But whether it’s close to home or on the other side of the world, the needs of children are the same and helping them get back to normal is our top priority.
Sandy has devastated areas of the East Coast. It has displaced families, destroyed property and claimed too many lives. There’s a lot of work to do. But I meant what I said to all of the kids and parents I met today: yes, it’s going to be okay. We’re here for you, we’re here for your children and we’ll be with you every step of the way.
*When you receive a text message, reply YES. A one-time donation of $10.00 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance.(Standard text messaging rates apply.) Read the fine print.