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The expression “home for the holidays” conjures nostalgic images of family and friends gathered around a bountiful table. But what if your home — and all that was in it — had been badly damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy? This is the reality for thousands of New Yorkers whose homes were in the direct path of the October super storm. As they continue the arduous work of repairing their homes and rebuilding their lives, their situation is made all the more challenging by the approaching holiday season. This is especially difficult for households with young children.
Imagine yourself in Cathy Borgognone’s shoes. When the mother of two stood surveying her severely water-damaged home in Staten Island’s New Dorp Beach neighborhood, her 5-year-old son Francesco looked at her earnestly and asked, “Will Santa still come to this house?”
Borgognone’s heart sank.
“Of course I told him that Santa would find him and his sister,” she recalls, “but at times like that it’s hard to put on a brave face.” With the day-to-day logistics of fixing her house foremost on her mind, Borgognone is currently staying in her brother-in-law’s basement has had little time to wonder what her holidays will look like this year or where she and her family might go to celebrate them. “I’m trying not to think about it,” she says.
It’s a sentiment shared by Red Hook, Brooklyn, resident Jolene Festa, whose family was also displaced by Hurricane Sandy.
“I haven’t made any decisions about the holidays yet,” says Festa. “Our floors, walls, doors, everything was destroyed. We won’t be back in before Christmas.” On the night of the storm, Festa and her husband frantically pushed towels and rolled-up carpets against their front and back doors, trying to keep out the rising tide, only to watch in horror as water began to seep up through the floorboards from their flooded basement.
Now living in a friend’s apartment, Festa is doing her best to remain positive for her 8-year-old son, River, but admits that her emotions can catch her off guard.
“There are times when I remember what isn’t downstairs anymore, like my son’s baby clothes or our bins of Christmas ornaments that held so many memories.” As for River, he has been buoyed by the generosity of friends, who have reached out not only with invitations for meals and play dates, but also with thoughtful gifts to replace what is gone. “One parent gave River a new Christmas ornament and a gift certificate to Barnes & Noble since most of his books were ruined. Moments like that fill him, and us, with a huge sense of gratitude.”
Indeed, the kindness of friends and strangers alike has made an incredible impact on the lives of storm victims throughout the five boroughs.
“People need to understand that many of the hardest-hit areas were multi-generational neighborhoods,” says volunteer Kim Shamoun. “If you lived there, then your brother probably lived down the street and your grandmother lived around the corner. So now if your house is gone, your whole support system is gone, too.”
Together with nine close friends, Shamoun mans a Facebook page, facebook.com/GivingBackToThoseAffectedBySandy, that has been tirelessly connecting people who want to help with people who need help since the day after the storm. Their experience has been nothing short of miraculous.
“I can’t count how many times we talk with one person who needs something and then a minute later someone calls offering just the kind of supplies that are needed. There’s a bigger thing happening here.”
As the holidays get closer — and with them the hectic pace that generally ensues — it’s important for those of us who were only minimally affected by the storm to keep our neighbors in our hearts and to continue helping in any way we can. Whether you can donate a warm meal, coat, school supplies, gift certificates, toys, or an hour of your time, there is truly no end to the opportunities that make a difference.
“Americans are always incredibly generous when there is a disaster anywhere in the world,” Borgognone points out. “It’s important for everyone to remember that this time it’s in our own backyard.”
To find out how you can get involved, visit facebook.com/GivingBackToThoseAffectedBySandy, nycservice.org, redcross.org, fema.gov/sandy or call religious institutions or municipal offices in neighborhoods affected by the storm.
Marie Hueston is a freelance writer and a native of Staten Island, who now lives in Brooklyn with her family.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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