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Queens Chronicle

Queens native sets up ‘Secret Sandy’

Organization geared at helping storm victims enjoy the holidays

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Posted: Thursday, December 6, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 2:20 pm, Thu Dec 13, 2012.

“Dear Secret Sandy.”

That’s how some children may be starting their letters for toys this holiday season after being affected by the October hurricane that flooded homes, washed away memories and left people powerless in the Northeast.

While efforts are being made to restore power, build back businesses and restart lives, Secret Sandy, an organization started by two women — one in Queens and one in New Jersey — is looking to bring a little happiness to children in need.

“To know that in three weeks, hundreds and hundreds of kids are getting something makes it worth every minute of time,” Joy Huang, cofounder of Secret Sandy, who was born and raised in Jamaica Estates, said.

Two and a half weeks after the day of the storm, Huang started the group with friend Kimberley Berdy, from Hoboken, N.J.

The two met years ago while they were working on a Broadway play, and came together to figure out something they could do to help.

“It’s sad to see people are going through this,” Huang said. “So why not give back whatever we can?”

The group currently has more than 1,000 “likes” on Facebook and has received about 330 letters. About 1,000 people have contacted Secret Sandy looking to donate. Huang and Berdy, who both have jobs outside of their volunteering for Secret Sandy, collect the letters — digitally and paper — and with the help of volunteers, make wish lists on Amazon.com.

They then send the child’s letter, which includes up to four items the child wants, to two people so that at least one or two gifts can be donated. The items can then be delivered directly to the child’s home from Amazon.com.

That leaves about 400 people who are still looking to donate toys.

Almost 200 people have signed up to help wrap gifts, participate in toy drives or enter data into the wish lists.

Huang suggests for those who can’t donate specific items to donate gift cards to stores like Home Depot and Target, and Secret Sandy will send the gift cards to the families who need items from those stores accordingly.

According to the cofounders, there is no place the organization won’t help. A lot of the letters are currently coming from the Rockaways, but they have also received letters from New Jersey and Long Island.

They do the best they can to vet the letters to ensure the writers were affected by Hurricane Sandy.

“What makes it work currently, why it came to be, is it’s a human connection,” Berdy said, adding that those who want to donate can directly contribute to a family in need. With donating to larger companies sometimes donators might not feel they made a difference directly, but “this they know they have, and it’s tangible.”

WNYC Radio tweeted Secret Sandy (@Secret_Sandy) as being their current favorite post-Sandy holiday help and Chelsea Clinton tweeted the group was a great idea.

“The letter sparked conversation between parents with what their kids have been going through versus just cleaning up,” Huang said.

Secret Sandy is looking to have an event in the Rockaways the weekend of Dec. 22, and when the holidays are over, continuing to help by finding ways to rebuild schools, through donating textbooks, bookbags, desks and school supplies.

“This is going to take a whole lot more time than just gifts,” Berdy said.

“Schools need to be rebuilt. Hopefully try and parlay this into more than holidays.”

Huang attended Immaculate Conception School in Astoria and The Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica Estates and has visited the Rockaways with her friends from the academy. She and Berdy have gone to visit the Rockaways numerous times too.

To fill out a letter or learn more about Secret Sandy, visit secretsandy.org.

“It extends so deep. People feel so lost. It is that direct one-to-one,” Huang said. “Even if it is anonymous, someone is thinking about you.”

Welcome to the discussion.