Although it’s been a month since Superstorm Sandy ripped through New York and other East Coast communities, many of its survivors are still struggling to obtain the basic necessities of life, particularly in the poorer communities. On Thursday, a Secret Santa visited some of the worst hit areas, like Elizabeth, N.J. and Staten Island, to make the holidays a little bit brighter.
Santa hails from Kansas City, Missouri. He’s a wealthy businessman who is giving out $100,000 in $100 bills to people whose lives have been devastated. Visiting places like Salvation Army stores and disaster centers, Santa approached people who were trying to assemble some necessities and slipped a bill or two into the palms of their hands. Carol Hefty, 72 years old and living in a damaged home, was picking up some free food when Santa approached and handed her $100. She spotted the words “Secret Santa” stamped in red on the bill and said, “But this isn’t real money!” Santa replied, “It is, and it’s for you.” She burst into tears and gave Santa a gift in return–a hug. An unemployed woman, the mother of a two-year-old who lost her home, a woman carefully weighing a $4 purchase at a Salvation Army store–all were recipients of Santa’s generosity.
The anonymous, red-shirted gentleman hopes to set an example for others, declaring to reporter Verena Dobnik that, “Anybody can be a Secret Santa.” He took over from a Kansas City friend, Larry Stewart, who spent years passing out $1 million at Christmastime before he died in 2007. Santa protects his anonymity, selects the sites to distribute the money, and easily travels the city streets with the assistance of New York and New Jersey police ‘helpers’, some of whom wear red hats labelled “elf.”
Many others in the hard-hit area have set their own example, making a very personal commitment to helping storm victims get through the holiday season and rebuild their lives. Lenny Callas volunteered to help survivors in Far Rockaway, N.Y. After trying to get assistance for a single mother with two children, who were living in a moldy apartment with no heat, Callas decided the process was too slow. The cold was creeping in more forcefully every day. So she opened her own home and took them in, virtually doubling her own household. Although the arrangement will probably last for several more weeks, Callas says her commitment is “open-ended.”
The poorer communities, like those on Rockaway Peninsula, are having a harder time recovering than more affluent ones. Rev. Alfred Cockfield told CBS News that, “Some people haven’t even started cleaning out their homes yet.” Resident Cedric Christian, standing in a church food line, told the reporter, “[I] can’t get up in the morning and make anything because I have nothing to cook.”
The pastors in these areas are hoping that some Secret Santas will step forward to help their communities, many of which aren’t well known. For anyone wanting to make a difference this holiday season–with supplies, money, or labor–there are plenty of places to choose from: Far Rockaway, Arverne, Belle Harbor, for example. One woman, dropping off a donation at a supply tent in one of these areas, said she saw how many people in the poorer communities were still struggling: “I see that there is a great need over here because the population over here is different — [it] just like breaks my heart.”