It was immediately after Super Storm Sandy hit the NYC area in 2012 that a group of friends and family members decided to do something to help the families that lost so much from the storms devastation. So many families in our area had experienced flooding and the shortage of food and drinking water. The loss of heat and electricity was massive. Public and private transportation came to a halt with the shortage of fuel. People slept on the streets because their homes were unsafe or destroyed.
We presented a plan of action and partnered with our local church to collect, coats, warm clothing, food, water and other necessities to distribute in Far Rockaway Queens which was one the hardest hit areas in NYC. During the following weeks we helped collect and distribute additional items that were so desperately needed to help in the clean-up process.
As the weeks went on and Thanksgiving approached, many were still without power and heat. Thinking about how hard it must be for families at this time, we realized that during the upcoming Christmas season it would become financially and emotionally harder. We decided to start a Toy Drive and called our group Shining Lights Helping Hands. Businesses and other volunteers were eager to join with us and were thankful that we had become a channel for them to help those in need.
We partnered with the New York Police Benevolent Association and were given a location, date and assistance to distribute toys. Their gratitude was overwhelming and they were so thankful for us coming, knowing that so many children in their neighborhood would be without gifts this year. Within a few weeks after deciding to start the Toy Drive, we loaded up nine vehicles and drove into the battered sandy streets of NYC to distribute over 1000 toys, gift items, blankets, candy and fresh fruit to hundreds of children.
Although our passion to help others remained, it wasn’t until June of 2015 that Shining Lights Helping Hands officially became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Since then we have continued to reach out to help families with children and have been continually expanding to lend a helping hand to others in need.
Within the first month of becoming established we initiated and held the first of our Annual Back-to-School Events. Initial contributions came from family and friends allowing us to give out over $1,800.00 in school supplies to children who lived locally and in our neighboring county. Letting the children choose their bookbags and fill it with needed school supplies was exciting to watch. The anticipation for the new school year was undoubtedly shared by everyone who attended. We later received a letter thanking us and letting us know the effects of our giving. “I am so grateful for all that was given to me, you would never know how much it means to me. Being evicted at the time and struggling with the stress of school being around the corner was even more while providing for 4 children. When I received the school supplies and bookbags, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I really hope and pray that one day I am able to give back”. Helping families like this is why we will continue to host a Back-to-School Event every year. We are consistently gearing up to ensure that each year becomes an even bigger success. To see up-to-date information please be sure to join us on our Facebook page.
In December we traveled to Baltimore, Maryland to join up with Samaritan's Purse, Operation Christmas Child, which is the worlds largest Christmas project of its kind to reach needy children. It uses filled shoe-boxes to share the love of God and to reach children throughout the world. A few of our members along with many other volunteers from all over the east coast came together to help fill and pack shoeboxes. Over 37,000 shoe-boxes were filled, packed and were ready to be shipped out during the course of the day that we participated. Operation Christmas Child's goal for 2015 was to reach 11 million children throughout the world. I'm sure that in the following years, it will reach even more. We are so thankful that we are able to be a part of such great work and we cant wait to return this year with a larger group. To learn more about Operation Christmas Child and how to pack a shoe-box to be sent to a child in need, visit www.samaritanspurse.org/occ
Throughout the year we helped where we could. When a nearby family lost most of their belongings because of fire damage, we were there to help. Within hours we gathered items and collected funds to aid them in their time of need. We later found out that it was the small gesture of giving a new book bag and school supplies that helped relieve a child’s deep concern about returning to school because her book bag was destroyed in the fire. Besides helping families, we have often assisted local organizations who have extended a helping hand throughout our community. For instance, we donated 100 new books to the Hillburn Senior Citizens to be added to their existing library. We supplied candy to aid in the Annual Gingerbread House Decorating Event for the children attending the after school program at the Michelle A. Noel Youth Center. During the summer months we are providing snacks and novelty items to children attending summer programs in our community, and to the children of the Nyack, New York location of All Rockland Kids, Powertime Ministry.
During the course of our Annual Toy Drive and Collection, we were in such anticipation of our final event of the season where we were asked to be included in The First Annual Child Development Center Holiday Extravaganza at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Patterson, New Jersey. We were invited to enjoy dinner with children and their immediate families to share in the celebration of their holiday party. We gave out gifts to all of the children who attended. We had the privilege to meet and talk to family members who shared stories of the challenges and blessings of raising children with special needs. We met such wonderful parents who shared ideas, interests and concerns with each other on the best available choices and services for their children. Using each other as a support network was an amazing experience to both see and hear. We are sincerely appreciative that we were included. We are thankful to all those in the Cranial, Facial and Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing Center at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center for welcoming us and making us feel like longtime friends. We also sent gifts to the children in the Critical Care and Cancer Unit, which we were unable to enter due to the seriousness of the children’s illnesses. We are looking forward to partaking in many other activities with these children in the upcoming future.
“We were so touched by everyone’s generosity and the fact that the kids had a great Christmas. It was beautiful…”
“Your kindness helped share in the holiday spirit with many of the pediatric patients who were hospitalized during December….the toys have added joy to the holiday season”
“Sending wishes of joy and peace…thank you for blessing our family with your gifts. God Bless”.
“Thank you in a variety of African languages: Ewe, akpe, Wolof, jayraijayf, Shona ndatenda chaizvo, Hausa na gode and Ga oyiwala donn!...Our children were so pleased with the gifts they received form your organization…”
– Chiku Awali African Dance, Arts & Culture, Inc.
“We can’t believe you’re helping us; you don’t even know us. You don’t know how much this means. Thank you.”
“Wow this is so much! The kids are going to be happy to have more candy to use on their gingerbread houses!”
“Last winter was extremely hard on my family, thanks to Shining Lights Helping Hands it was so much easier. The amount of food and personal products made the rest of the winter and spring easier to get through. Thank you again.”
“Our books are old but they are all we have. Your donation will make everyone happy. They still enjoy reading books from our library.”
“When I received the school supplies and book bags, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.”
“Your generosity was completely unexpected and greatly appreciated. You have shown there is still good in this world….thank you for all that you do!”
– Anita & Jenna