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BY KAITLYN MEADE | A few weeks out from the holiday season, things are looking pretty grim for the families whose lives and livelihoods were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. But a disaster has once again proven that New Yorkers are resilient and work together to support their communities. One such New Yorker, Christina Tropiano — who works in the South Street Seaport — has decided to do her best to keep Sandy from wrecking the holiday cheer in Manhattan.
Her new project, a Facebook-based campaign called “Sandy Can’t Stop the Holidays in NYC”, is aimed at connecting families who will struggle to afford presents during the holidays with people seeking to contribute to a charitable cause this winter. It is based on a post-Sandy initiative by Tropiano’s friend and former sorority sister Lauren Van Sise that will provide toys for children in Staten Island, an area that was especially hard-hit by the storm.
“I saw her do it and thought it was a great idea, and I applied it to where I was,” Tropiano said. “I didn’t want the idea to be something confined to Staten Island.”
Van Sise and fellow organizer Cristina Wynn were inspired by Wynn’s father, who used to go to the post office every year and collect letters to Santa from families whose children were worried he wouldn’t stop at their house that year. “So far we’ve found about six families with two or three children whose homes were destroyed or are unlivable right now. One mom got very emotional because she said she’d never thought as far as Christmas and presents, she was just trying to find somewhere to stay, so the fact that someone else wanted to help really touched her,” said Van Sise.
Those who would like to be more personally involved can fulfill families’ wish lists by going shopping for children. They can also send in gift cards, in which case Tropiano would do the shopping for them. But the first step for her is to get in touch with the families in Manhattan who would benefit from the toy drive.
Tropiano said she doesn’t need to know the families’ names, so long as she knows how many children are in the household, what their genders are and how old they are. She is also adamant that families’ details not be publicized on Facebook so as to keep their identities private.
Though still figuring out how to find the families that are in need, Tropiano has already received what she feels is an “overwhelming” amount of support. She asks those who would like to donate to get in touch with her but not to send any gifts just yet. “People already want to go shopping,” she said, “but we have to find out what is needed first.”
Tropiano, a native of Staten Island, lives in Washington Heights and works as a waitress at Acqua, a South Street Seaport restaurant and wine bar that was ravaged by the storm. “It’s like going from one world to another,” she said of the difference in storm damage between Uptown and Downtown. The building, located at 21 Peck Slip, had about four feet of flooding. Tropiano estimates about $20,000 worth of repairs, including a replacement of the floors and walls.
Despite the challenges that lie ahead, she is determined to remain positive. “We were planning renovations in January, anyway,” she said. “We’ll just have to do them early — about half now and half in January.” Acqua is hoping to be one of the first neighborhood businesses to reopen, in a few weeks to a month.
Tropiano urges those with information about families in need and those who would like to participate in the toy drive to e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.