Feeling Helpless, She Felt Hopeless...A Thanksgiving Story

Katrina guilt and Sandy redemption and a Thanksgiving trip to Atlantic City: How you can help.

The roundabout way I decided to drive to Atlantic City this Black Friday to bring donations to The Second Baptist Church of Atlantic City and how you can help:

It all started seven years ago on August 29th, 2005 – my middle daughter’s birthday and the day that Hurricane Katrina came roaring into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

The kids and I were down the shore in Strathmere, as we are every summer in the last week of August. At that time, the cottage we stay in didn’t have cable and it was before I even knew what a smart phone was, so everyday I walked around the corner to get a Inquirer to find out what was going on in New Orleans. 

I felt horrified and helpless, and that feeling only grew as the week and then weeks and then months progressed. It rained in Strathmere that week, too. The streets flooded and people kayaked to get around.  My then-young children rode their bikes through the flooded streets. It was fun!  It was a weird juxtaposition to what was going on in New Orleans. Even though at the time I had never been to New Orleans, I wished I could just get in my car and go down and help.

Since then, I have visited New Orleans several times (with another trip planned for January) and have fallen in love with the city.  When we first visited a few years back, City Hall and buildings around it were still partially boarded up.  Some of the neighborhoods were silent – there just didn’t seem to be a lot of people.  And everywhere we went, the locals would tell us or show us where the water had gone up to in their home or business in the storm. 

I got to know a little bit about what Katrina was like from talking to people and getting to know the lay of the city. My feelings of helplessness surrounding Katrina abated; replaced by fears that the people who were there before Katrina might never get back to the city they love.

So, last month when Sandy arrived, we hunkered down like everyone else. Thoughts of Katrina flickered through my mind, but we all thought it could never be as bad here as it was there.  And here in Ardmore, it was just like a bad rainstorm, really no big deal. I checked out Strathmere, which is always on the verge of being washed away anyway, and it seemed ok. 

Then, reports of what happened in New York and Central/North Jersey and far, far South Jersey started to emerge.  The mayor of Hoboken asking for people to just come help. Parts of Atlantic City destroyed. New York City underwater.

Again, the impulse to get in my car and drive and take people away from the mess was very strong.  I couldn’t do that with Katrina because it was far away and I had young kids and a job and life.  But this disaster was right next-door, in places I know and love with people I know and love. I could load the canoes on top of the car and drive to Hoboken!  I could drive supplies over!

But again, kids (who had off the whole week after the storm) and work and life got in the way.  I gave to the Red Cross.  I made sure that the people I knew in those areas were okay.  I have followed the aftermath in the New York Times, which is doing an excellent job not letting the disaster be forgotten.  But time goes on and the urgency fades.

Then, this past Monday as I was driving to work, my liberal, middle-class, white ears half listening to Dr. Dan Gottleib on WHYY, I started to actually listen to what was being said on the radio.  It was a show on gratitude and caring for others – the Thanksgiving edition of “Voices in the Family.” 

Dr. Dan was talking to the Reverend Collins Days of the Second Baptist Church of Atlantic City. Reverend Collins was talking about how the first floor of the church had been destroyed in the flooding of Sandy and then looted of all the electronic equipment. But, that wasn’t the focus.  The focus was on what the people of the Second Baptist were doing to help those who still needed help after the storm.  Helping people clear out their houses or apartments of destroyed furniture and memories. To quote Reverend Collins, “Many people in the community are on the poverty line or below and when the floods came in, they lost everything.”

He also spoke about how there was a line a block long outside the church, at that moment, waiting for food from the church food pantry.  Dr. Dan asked what listeners could do to help and the Reverend replied that if people could just drive donated food right there to the church, that would be the best option. 

I could do that. So I called the number of the Second Baptist Church on the WHYY website (http://whyy.org/cms/voicesinthefamily) and the very nice young lady who answered the phone said they needed non-perishable food items and new clothes.  I asked about shopping carts (the kind people use to get to and from the store) and she said they were like gold around there because a lot of people did not have cars.

Well, I already have some food donated from Penn Valley Elementary. I went to Kmart yesterday and bought a few items of clothes for men and women and a couple shopping carts.  And I have a few hours this Black Friday morning to drive down to Atlantic City.

Now, I am asking you to help.  I know we are all can-drived out. Trust me, I almost went ballistic about the 20 cans my daughter asked for last week for the Welsh Valley canned food drive. But, these people really need our help.  Really.  I will take it to the Second Baptist Church and it will go directly to the people who need it the most.

I am asking people to donate new clothes; canned, plastic bottle, or boxed food and shopping carts.   I will load up my minivan or our pickup truck, depending on quantity and weather, and leave early Friday morning to go to AC.

Please bring whatever you can to Linwood Park at Linwood and Athens Avenue in Ardmore and leave it in a bin on Thursday, Thanksgiving, between 9 a.m. and noon.  Take a family Thanksgiving walk over to the park and be grateful for what a wonderful place we live in with wonderful people.

 If you cannot make it to the Park and would like to donate, please contact me by tomorrow eve at kategaler@verizon.net or 215-990-1323.  I can pick up! Thank you.


Remember, we are all in this together.

Happy Thanksgiving



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