A Holiday Story, 2012
The holiday season is upon us once again, and this year, many of us are looking at much of life with a different perspective, in great part due to the devastation that befell Newtown, Connecticut last week. We continue to keep that community and all of those affected by the tragedy in our thoughts.
At this time though, as we did last year, we thought it would be a good opportunity to provide a story of holiday hope, focusing on the efforts of one of our own, who is dealing with her own family crisis, but in the process is trying to help her family and its community rebuild.
This year's tale is about Karen Goguen of Pepperell, who works in the reception area of our Federal Building in Lowell.
Let's let Karen tell her story in her own words:
My holiday experience this year has been full of mixed emotions, from Thanksgiving right up through this Christmas season - joy, grace, sadness, all of the emotions that describe what has happened to my family, how we have managed to pull together and how we've tried to help those in need of our support.
Weeks ago, I made it known that I had family members who suffered tremendous losses due to the impact of Hurricane Sandy on New York and New Jersey. Our students did a wonderful job of running a clothing drive on campus to assist the victims, and I offered to help deliver some clothing myself when I travelled to visit my own family. Little did I know what an amazing amount of support I would experience from our staff, faculty, students and community members.
Once word spread that I was trying to help the hurricane victims, I was overwhelmed to see nearly 20 bags of clothing that were collected from our community to help the people of New York and New Jersey. And this was AFTER our students had already donated dozens of others bags through a Student Activities campaign.
I've made this drive back to my family's homes hundreds of times since moving to Massachusetts, but this time was different. There was an overwhelming feeling of loss. Driving west on the Long Island Expressway felt eerie. Houses that I've seen all my life were missing. Closed signs were hanging on business doors. Gas station price signs were dark, and the closer I got to my family's home, the impact was crushing.
Entire neighborhoods were gone. Families, including many of whom are people I know, lost everything - ALL their clothing, ALL their furniture, ALL of their food, and in my case, many of my childhood memories. This is my cousin's home:
The Staten Island neighborhood was without power. Shelters were full to capacity. Many people had nowhere to turn. It was a horrible sight to see. I saw desperate people, many of them leading small children around by the hand, who hadn't eaten for hours and couldn't understand how this was happening in America today.
Leaving Staten Island, my family and I decided to stop by my aunt's house in Queens. Again, the emotions washed over us. This was a home we gathered in every Thanksgiving. Normally, it could accommodate about 40 members of our family. This year, the house was in pieces. There was nothing left. This picture shows what remains:
There was no access to Manhattan, as the tunnels and subway stops were still flooded. We instead gathered at my aunt's house in Long Island. Driving there, more gas stations were closed, and lines of people stood by the pumps for as long as four hours with a small red gas container, hoping to just get enough gas to get from Point A to Point B.
Thanksgiving reminded me of exactly what I had to be thankful about - giving thanks that my family was all safe and together. We spent our holiday listening to sad stories about the storm and what my family lost, but cherishing the stories we had about the good times growing up, and that helped us enjoy the laughs and memories even more.
The sights were unforgettable. Buildings were bruises and battered, bags of trash and broken furniture littered sidewalks eveywhere. We heard stories about looting that was occurring. Thankfully, there was a strong police presence in place. It was all very surreal.
I returned to Staten Island two weeks ago, this time armed with an abundance of "construction" clothes, as Staten Island has decided it's time to rebuild. I brought back bags of jeans and heavy shirts that I delivered to the restoration centers to help them distribute to the workers.
Two trips done, but I've got another one planned for after the New Year. The trips are exhausting, but I would make them as many times as necessary.
Many of you have called or emailed me asking what is needed, or how you can help.
These are the items that are needed:
- children's (including infant) clothing
- maternity clothing
- men's ":construction" clothing
- children's supplies (coloring books, reading books, crayons, etc.)
- elementary school supplies (notebooks, pencils, pens, and construction paper)
- miscellaneous items such as tissues, gloves, latex gloves, disposable masks, hand sanitizers, hand-held notebooks, blankets and sheets. No shoes, please.
No cash donations, please.
If anyone is interested in donating, please get your items to me at the Federal Building before January 14th.
In the meantime this holiday season, don't take anything for granted, and take the time to appreciate what you have, and the people you have around you.