Seasonal cheer came a little early this year for dozens of area youngsters and their families, all of whom had to some degree been affected by Hurricane Sandy, thanks to the efforts of three elected officials and Queens Center mall in Elmhurst, where a breakfast and toy distribution was held on Saturday morning.
First to arrive on the scene were members of the Pitts family, mom Khadijah and her two children, Cyrus, 11, and Soraiya, 10, along with family friend Jada Bell, 10, who came from Far Rockaway.
The Pitts family had to evacuate and stayed with Khadijah’s mother and in a hotel until they were able to move back home, only two weeks ago. Among other problems, the family saw its basement flooded and the electricity knocked out.
“I don’t think life will ever be like it was before the storm,” Pitts said.
For Soraiya, who was honored as her fifth grade class’s valedictorian in June, the worst is having no heat.
“I have to wrap up in many, many blankets. “But my mom helps us stay warm,” she said. Surveying the food court on the lower level where the event was held, she added, “I’m thankful they’re giving us something after the storm.”
Bell, who lives a couple of miles from the Pitts family, explained that her family’s basement was completely destroyed.
Chartered buses brought most of the other families to the mall, all of whom seemed delighted to participate in the festivities.
Giannina Cappello, of Howard Beach, came with her family, including 8-month-old Rosa. Despite flooding in their home, the family did not have to leave.
“The night of the storm we felt a little sorry for ourselves,” Cappello said. “The next day, we felt so blessed.”
Everyone in attendance was offered breakfast, gift bags with all kinds of child-friendly items, and, of course, toys for the children, which were donated by Macerich Queens Center, the parent company of the mall, according to Dawn Simon, senior manager of marketing of Queens Center.
“We’re the social heart of Queens,” she said. “We felt we wanted to do something special for the children affected by the hurricane. I reached out to Senator Peralta. He said he’d provide transportation and we’d do everything else.”
State Sens. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica) sponsored the event along with Queens Center.
“Why not bring a bit of normalcy back to the kids?” Peralta asked. “It is very special to see how kids react. As a parent, I know it’s about the kids. The only issue was transportation and Local 1056 ATU came through and donated the buses.”
Addabbo agreed, saying, “The children are innocent victims. Their parents are concentrating on getting their lives together. We wanted to make sure the children have a good holiday season.”
And Smith said, “We want the community to know we’re concerned. This is the season to be joyful. We’re letting the children and their parents know we’re always thinking about them.”