The destruction felt by victims of Hurricane Sandy seemed to echo to all parts of the world, and for many, one iconic elephant became a universal beacon of hope.
"Helicopters flying by (showed) island after island of destruction and sadness," said Rich Helfant, Lucy the Elephant's executive director. "And then they see Lucy is still standing."
Helfant immediately saw an outpouring of response on Lucy's Facebook page, with 266,000 people "talking about" her within the weeks after the storm and 3,000 new fans joining, merely to see if the monument still stood.
One fan wrote in, suggesting the popular Elton John song "I'm Still Standing" as a new theme song.
The idea inspired a simple T-shirt sale that raised thousands of dollars for relief efforts, Helfant said.
Jeremy Bingaman, Lucy the Elephant's new assistant director, designed an image that included Lucy and a giant wave behind her. In large letters, it said, "I'm Still Standing. Yeah, yeah, yeah!"
"We should definitely do a shirt," Helfant recalled after seeing the image.
"It wasn't something that we set out to do. It just kind of happened," Bingaman added. "We don't want to capitalize on something so devastating, but when people saw Lucy in the news, it was a sign of hope. And people just wanted to commemorate that."
Sales astonished Helfant and his staff.
"(It was) insane," Helfant said. "Over 1,000 shirts (were sold.)"
The $20 shirts were mailed to locals and Lucy-lovers across the nation, including individuals in Florida, Maine, Oregon and Alaska. Helfant said he even had a request come from the United Kingdom.
"I decided we needed to do something to give back, even though we are a charity. We are so lucky. This was our way of saying 'thanks' that Lucy was spared. Lucy is still here and will be here for many generations," the executive director added.
The monument itself was left virtually unscathed, Helfant said, with only minimal damage discovered in her back legs. Lucy's Gift Shop and the beach grille were not as lucky, with damages exceeding $70,000.
While some of the proceeds would help offset the cost of some of the repairs, Lucy the Elephant and her staff wanted to look at "the bigger picture," Helfant said.
On Dec. 4, Lucy the Elephant board members, volunteers, marketing team and staff, as well as town officials met at Ventura's Greenhouse Restaurant for their annual holiday luncheon - a fitting gathering in which to present the first installment to Red Cross Southern Shores Executive Director Carol Cohen and Disaster Response Specialist Tiffany Paloff.
As Lucy could be seen from the balcony of the restaurant, Cohen and Paloff stood to receive the $1,000 check.
"What really is touching is the outpouring and the thought that in the midst of your own personal tragedy, you would stop to think how you would give back to someone else," Cohen said. "We are very grateful."
Helfant, who modeled the commemorative T-shirt on a stuffed elephant for all to see that day, promised that there would be more to come. Sunday, Dec. 16 will mark the end of the online T-shirt sale, but shirts will still be available in Lucy's Gift Shop while supplies last, he said.
"They say elephants never forget and we will never forget this," Cohen said.
To purchase the "I'm Still Standing" commemorative shirt, see lucytheelephant.org or visit the gift shop.
For the remainder of the year, Lucy will be open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays, Thursday, and Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
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