Extreme Chef Season 2 winner and Egg Harbor Township resident Terry French believes something has been missing in Atlantic City for quite some time. Although he spoke about the nostalgia he believes is missing briefly on Wednesday, Dec. 12, his focus and the focus of those in attendance at Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern in Atlantic City was on the most recent disaster to strike the area.
Water Watch International hosted a free dinner for first responders who went out and risked their lives to help others during Superstorm Sandy Wednesday afternoon.
French prepared a special meal for the occasion.
“When Sandy hit, I was going from marina to marina helping businesses and people who were right on the water,” French said. “We were out there helping anyone we could, whether it was people stuck on an island or people whose boats were sinking. … I had friends who lost everything in Longport, Ocean City and Margate.”
French has started a not-for-profit organization called Chefs for Life. Chefs for Life is currently raising money for those impacted by Sandy in the Rockaways.
“It’s a global company that helps people around the world,” French said.
He also has two families currently staying with him.
“They’re retirement age,” French said. “It’s tough when you’re 70 and you have to figure out how you’re going to rebuild.”
He said Wednesday’s event was special because it was helping those who helped others in their time of need, all of whom were recognized with Certificates of Appreciation in addition to the meal.
“These people have children too,” French said. “They were out helping other people when they were without power at home.”
Those first responders included Lt. Tim Showell of the Atlantic County Sheriff’s Department. Showell was working in the command center at the outset of the storm. He helped coordinate the closing of roads and made sure everyone was safe. In the ensuing days, he was in charge of allowing residents who had been evacuated from the barrier islands return home.
“The hardest part was the road flooding and all the problems that went along with it,” Showell said.
Debbie Van Sant, Executive Director of the Atlantic County Habitat For Humanity was also recognized.
“We’ve been helping others with disaster relief, coordinating volunteers and collecting food for victims,” Van Sant said.
They’ll also be working to help families who aren’t covered by insurance.
“FEMA won’t rebuild your home,” Van Sant said.
Assemblymen Chris Brown and John Amodeo were both on hand.
“It was a difficult time that brought out the best in our community,” Brown said. “We owe our thanks to all our first responders who left their families during a crisis. … This is what our community is all about.”
Comedienne LaTice, of Marlton, provided comic relief.
“We go back to warm homes with electricity,” Water Watch International President and Executive Director Joel Fogel said. “People were getting depressed, tired and were experiencing fatigue. … We wanted to do something to give them a good meal, to help keep their spirits up. We’re beaten, but we’re not down.”
Water Watch International partnered with the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey’s Water Watch branch to present the event. Angelo’s provided the space, and donated food and servers for the event.
Margot Pellegrino, a community activist from Medford Lakes who has a special interest in the environment, was among those recognized and had a warning for those in attendance.
“Sandy is not the last event we’re going to face,” Pellegrino said. “We need to face that fact and we need to adjust.”
She also agreed with French that something was missing from Atlantic City.
With much of the country unaware that the Atlantic City area is recovering and tourism in Atlantic City down, French’s comments took on special meaning.
“Atlantic City is here, and someone has to figure out a way to get people back here,” French said. “The history here is phenomenal, but we don’t have that nostalgia. We don’t have what Atlantic City once was.
“We see Atlantic City is having a hard time reviving itself. What happens in Atlantic City happens in Egg Harbor Township, Margate and Longport.”
For a day, those who helped were recognized, even as they continue to help those in need.