Storm victims organize Secret Sandy gift exchange

John Hardy, left, and his son, Liam, 13, visit the charred remains of his wife\'s parents home in the Breezy Point section of the Queens borough of New York, Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. A fire destroyed more than 100 homes in the oceanfront community during Superstorm Sandy.(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Thomas Warren,

WASHINGTON – Two women who survived superstorm Sandy are putting a new twist on the popular holiday gift exchange known as Secret Santa.

Television producer Joy Huang and Kimberley Berdy, a biochemist-turned actress, started the website to collect and distribute gifts to children of families affected by the storm.

Huang, a Queens, N.Y. native, volunteered in the Rockaways during the storm. She lost power for six days in her Greenwich Village home after the storm.

Berdy, who lives in Hoboken, N.J., lost power and heat in her home for eight days and was forced to evacuate following Sandy.

It was while volunteering with friends the two realized that their work could have a larger impact.

“We were like, ‘Oh, it’s not just for the girls that we know. It’s for all the families we don’t know,'” Huang says. “And, it just kind of snowballed from there.”

The site launched on Nov. 19. Wish lists will be sent through Amazon’s Wish List site. Gifts will go directly to a child or family who needs them, Huang says.

Anyone who wants to give a gift can fill out a registration form. Families can also sign up to receive gifts by filling out a “Dear Secret Sandy” letter. The deadline to submit a letter through regular mail is Dec. 8.

Volunteers can also sign up to sort and wrap donated gifts.

501(c)(3) Paperwork needs to be finalized before they can except donations, which Huang says should be in order by December.

However, it’s what money can’t buy that has inspired Huang and Berdy in their mission to help.

“It’s just truly connecting one person to another, and that human contact has been so amazing,” Huang says.

Just days after the launch the buzz spread, and the responses came pouring in from around the country, and overseas. They’ll soon be receiving a large shipment of toys from a donor in England.

In Huang’s voice there’s a tone of awe and humbleness when she speaks about the letters she’s read from people who want to help.

“The human spirit is alive and well, which is nice,” she says.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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