First Sandy came to town, then Santa.
Christmas arrived early for children in Island Park, Long Beach and Belle Harbor thanks to the handiwork and generosity of several families from Malverne, West Hempstead and beyond.
Roughly 500 toys and 500 children's books were distributed last weekend to youngsters in these three communities, which were devasted by Superstorm Sandy.
It all started with an idea that Malvernite Lori Hunt Lang presented to the Malverne Civic Association in late November. Lang, a mother of five, suggested that the organization collect toys and books for Sandy's youngest victims during the village's holiday festivities.
"Their basesments and first floors, where their playrooms were, flooded," Lang said. "Driving through the communities on the curbs you literally see kids' toys ... and it's just not a priority for parents to worry about [holiday] shopping if they are doing demolition and sheetrock and all that other stuff."
With the support of the civic and Lang leading the charge, the Malverne Lights the Way for Sandy Relief drive kicked off on Dec. 1 through the Lighting of Malverne. Collection boxes were placed at the three Breakfast with Santa seatings, at San Dee Lanes for Bowling with Santa and along Hempstead Avenue that night for the village's annual holiday lighting. By the end of the day, families had donated roughly 100 toys, which quickly became 200.
Project H.O.T. S.H.O.T.S., a global charity started by Malvernite John Gotimer, matched the donations collected on Dec. 1, purchasing 50 dolls and 50 toy trucks for the drive. The non-profit also separately donated school supplies to St. Francis de Sales School in Belle Harbor.
"They lost everything," Lang said of the Belle Harbor school. "They are not even in their school right now. The students are being bused to Brooklyn."
Collection bins were placed inside Malverne's Village Hall and the Malverne Public Library for two weeks. Lang also mentioned the drive to the principal of her children's school, St. Thomas the Apostle in West Hempstead, which had already adopted Long Beach Catholic Regional School, but agreed to get involved in this effort too.
Malvernite Tom Grech also offered to mention the drive to fellow alumni from his alma mater, Scranton University. They donated too.
"Initially, I thought through the lighting and the village, we'd bring in enough to match a town, but then I shared it ... and it just grew and grew," Lang said.
Grech, Nina Miro and Lang had launched a grassroots effort in the wake of Sandy called "RepairRestoreRenew the South Shore of Long Island" to get monetary donations quickly into the hands of local families devastated by the hurricane. Some of these funds were earmarked to purchase toys for the drive.
"It's amazing," Lang said of the success of RepairRestoreRenew. "We brought in over $10,000 already and $1,000 in gift cards and we helped probably like 20 families." They continue to collect donations through Paypal. To donate, click here.
By Thursday, Lang's garage was packed with donations, roughly 1,000. A former West Hempstead resident who now lives in Island Park picked up the books and art supplies for one of the elementary schools there that suffered severe flooding during the storm.
Then, Lang and Malverne Civic Association President Suzanne Kraemer-Parra and VP Kathi Monroe loaded up their cars Friday and dropped off the donations to Belle Harbor that morning and then to Long Beach at noon. Both communities were holding holiday events on Saturday, where they distributed the toys.
If any residents still wish to donate toys to children in need this season, Lang is directing them to the Toys for Tots bins located throughout local communities.