Those still feeling the effects of the hurricane were offered some holiday spirit at the Ventnor Community Center on Saturday.
Standing in the cold, wrapped in one of the navy blue blankets that were being distributed to all visitors, Valeria Montoya, 9, was looking forward to getting her presents.
After the storm, “we lost everything. It was terrible,” she said. “I miss the toys that lots of people gave me.”
Montoya, who had tears well up when asked to talk about her old house on Portland Avenue, was standing in line with her sister, Daniella, 8, and father, Bairo, while her mother and 13-month-old brother waited in the warmth of the car.
Though the family was able to find a new home in the city, with the help of FEMA, many of their possessions were lost.
Similarly, Paul Wilson, 29, lost everything in his home on Sacramento Avenue. Currently living with his brother in Pleasantville, he waited in line at the center to get presents for his two nephews.
“I lost thousands of dollars in electronics,” Wilson said.
A woman standing next to him in line, Shaheen Khan, said her home on Troy Avenue was damaged, and they lost everything in the basement.
“We need help,” Khan said, adding that she has been tossed back and forth between her insurance company and FEMA.
The Hooked on Ventnor group hosted the toy giveaway starting at 2 p.m. and saw at least 150 children walked out with smiles after an hour.
“We are going to be here either until there are no more presents or until 5,” said Mike Advena, a coordinator.
Kids were given large paper bags and went with a volunteer escort from table to table choosing toys. They were allowed to choose a stuffed animal, two toys, and then a gift for their parents. In addition, they were given bags of toiletries and necessities, some of which came from a Girl Scouts troop in New York. The zippered sandwich bag contained toothpaste, a toothbrush, tissue paper, deodorant and a hand-made Christmas card.
“It’s great,” Advena said. “It’s turning out much better than I expected.”
Galloway resident Tiffany Jordan was one of the volunteers and was happy to see the kids’ excitement.
A 6-year-old boy, after patiently listening to the directions of how to proceed with his bag, looked up and asked, “And it’s all for free?” Jordan said. “When I told him ‘Yes,’ he was so happy.”
Elsewhere in the county, there were other events to help spread holiday cheer. In Pleasantville, the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge held its 34th annual Christmas Bazaar at the Middle School cafeteria.
Families began lining up at the door at 8:30 a.m., though doors weren’t set to open until 10. The organization let everyone in at about 9 a.m. because of the cold weather, said Robert Oglesby Jr., a coordinator.
Concessions were offered and all children got presents from Santa, as well as the chance to win one of 160 bikes, Oglesby said. They expected about 400 would be in attendance, he said.
Tamari Wilson-Perry, 11, who recently moved with her family to Pleasantville, was very excited about the chance to win a bike. “I’m going to ride to the store,” she said excitedly.
“Eventually you can ride to work, too,” teased her mother, Vikki Perry.
“I’m just glad to be here because where we moved from, they charged people for concessions at events like this, and this is the first time everything is for free,” said Perry, a former resident of Egg Harbor Township.
In Atlantic City, celebrity R&B singer Estelle, who performed Friday night at The House of Blues, had tweeted to her fans a week before her performance to send unwrapped toys to Mayor Lorenzo Langford. Eight families with elementary school-aged children were determined as deserving of these gifts, based on the decision by the school districts’ guidance counselors, said Board of Education member Nynell Langford.
Friday, Dec. 21, was proclaimed Estelle Day in Atlantic City, Nynell Langford said.
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