Ocean City firefighters have spent the last few days on a different kind of rescue.
Members of Ocean City Firemen's Mutual Benevolent Association (FMBA) Local No. 27 have been delivering food, bedding and clothing to members of the non-English-speaking community in Ocean City — some of the island's residents hardest hit by the hurricane that left widespread damage on Oct. 29.
"The kids were resigned to the fact that Christmas wasn't coming," firefighter Ray Clark said.
Yet nobody asked for toys, he said. They knew their families needed the bare necessities: food, shelter and warmth.
As Sandy — the hurricane-turned-monster-storm — moved away in late October and residents began to assess the damage to uninhabitable homes, many came forward to take advantage of the volunteer relief efforts that provided food and shelter to those in need. But because of language barriers and, in some cases, fear of deportation, many of the island's Hispanic residents refused help.
Volunteers going door-to-door reported families sleeping on bedding still soaked by the record-high floodwaters of Sandy. These members of a growing segment of Ocean City's population represent a special challenge to the volunteers trying to help them.
Working with a Spanish-speaking volunteer, the firefighters visited the Hispanic community to let them know that they were just people helping people.
We told them, "We want you to be OK," Clark said.
The local FMBA had received a $5,000 donation from Ocean City High School graduate and Sea Isle City real estate broker Jamie Sofroney's "Pay It Forward" organization. They received another $9,000 from the charitable St. Sue Foundation of Wayne, Pa.
The FMBA went to work with the combined $14,000 in donations.
On Sunday, they traveled to the La Escondida market in Pleasantville and bought "the entire grocery store," Clark said of a major purchase. The piles of staples and specialty foods was transported to the Ocean City Fire Department, where firefighters picked up individual loads for delivery to the families the interpreter had helped identify as the most in need.
The FMBA also bought clothes, wrapped them and delivered them to families in time for Christmas. The FMBA effort also included the purchase and delivery of bedding for families in need.
Becker's School Supplies had made a donation that included Etch-a-Sketches for each child in need, and the firefighters helped facilitate delivery.
"It took a couple days of playing detective," Clark said of the effort to identify these community members most affected by the storm.
But the FMBA is confident that their Christmas will be much more comfortable because of the effort.
OCNJ CARE, the volunteer group coordinating all storm relief efforts in Ocean City, is organizing a special food drive to help meet the needs of the same communities. Here's information on how to help (from the OCNJ CARE Facebook page):
Food Donations Request for a Special Needs Group:
Donations can be dropped off at the Henry S. Knight Building, 115 12th Street, 9am to 4pm Monday-Friday. Closed on Christmas Day. Items in need: tomato paste, rice, beans, cornmeal, soups, pastas, sugar, cereal, fruit in cans or cups, condensed milk, oil, salt, chocolate, coffee, soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, diapers (size 1- 4), baby formula, juices.