MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Staten Island was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and many people there won't be able to spend the holidays in their homes. Volunteers on the island have put together a new effort for these families and children, in particular, uprooted by the storm. As NPR's Margot Adler reports, it's a toy store, but everything inside is free.
MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: There are shelves filled with toys - model cars, Monopoly, dolls, craft supplies, books, many things you would want in a toy store. Walesk Bhatti has three children.
WALESK BHATTI: I got the little horsie...
ADLER: Oh my heaven.
BHATTI: ...for the baby and I got some dolls for the seven-year-old.
ADLER: You get two toys for each child. But the rules aren't strict.
MADELINE BERGIN: Look around. Choose six items. If you can't decide, let us know. We are very lenient. When you get to this part of the room from this point over, there are all stocking stuffers, unlimited, help yourself.
ADLER: That's volunteer Madeline Bergin. She gives personal attention to everyone. She wants to know if you're back in your home or not. Grace Paterno says she lost all her Christmas decorations in the storm. She picked some toys, but what she really wants is a tree. Bergin figures it out, and Paterno is pretty close to tears.
GRACE PATERNO: A tree. Somebody donated a tree to us.
Oh, thank you. God bless.
ADLER: You said lost all your Christmas...
PATERNO: I did. They were in my shed, in the back. We lost my whole first floor of my home, so we're not in there yet. But I'm trying to be in there for Christmas morning so my kids can open their presents.
ADLER: When you enter the store, there's a system, but it takes less than a minute.
BERGIN: We take their name, their address, their FEMA number, the amount of children. So far, we've had 405 families, and we've given away over 2,200 toys since we started.
ADLER: Where To Turn, the organization behind this effort, began after the September 11th attacks. Its founder is Dennis McKeon.
DENNIS MCKEON: The Parish of St. Claire has lost 29 victims in the World Trade Center.
ADLER: So that's how they got started. Now, they take on all kinds of tragedies, but they still have roots in 9/11. Madeline Bergin lost her husband that day.
BERGIN: My husband was a firefighter, so now it's my turn to sit behind the desk and help people because people were so generous and kind to me.
ADLER: McKeon had the idea to collect toys for children affected by Sandy about six weeks ago.
MCKEON: And then I said, you know what, let's not have a party. Let's open a store so that we can give it to more people.
ADLER: He got the space from a union local. McKeon, who works for AT&T, is here on his lunch hour.
MCKEON: Everything you see in here is donated - the tables, the shelves, everything. We came in. We set it up as a toy store. The rest is history.
BERGIN: We've had donations from as far away as Massachusetts, Boston, upstate New York. I mean, random people off the street just walk in.
ADLER: With stuff?
BERGIN: With stuff.
ADLER: I spot Eileen Pepel. She's clutching a soft beige stuffed animal in her arms.
EILEEN PEPEL: I got a basketball. I got gift cards, and I got this stuffed puppy that's just such a love.
ADLER: She tells the volunteers, be prepared, I'm bringing many people back to this store.
PEPEL: My entire family is out of our homes right now, at least 13 of the destroyed homes belonged to my family, at least six of them are my immediately family members. So when I'm telling her I have people I'm sending back to her for this, we will appreciate it so much.
ADLER: They're still waiting for insurance. But here, there's no bureaucracy, just human warmth and connection. There are even gift cards for older kids. See a stocking on the wall? It's yours if you want it. As Bergin puts it:
BERGIN: We're giving away the whole store.
ADLER: And they are. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.
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