Santa’s helpers traveled a long distance to make a special stop in Baton Rouge this weekend, though not from quite so far away as the North Pole.
A New York-based nonprofit group created to help Superstorm Sandy flood victims in Long Island decided to play the Santa helper role for flood victims in Louisiana’s capital city this Christmas season.
The group, Adopt a House, assisted by a social media networking group, Sandy Support Massapequa Style, co-hosted a Christmas party on Saturday for 50 Baton Rouge children, ranging from 2 to 12 years old, whose families had been affected by the flooding in August.
The party, which took place at the LSU Hilltop Arboretum, featured holiday-themed crafts, face painting and, of course, a visit from Santa Claus.
Adopt a House is dedicated to supporting the Long Island community in rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which tore through the east coast in late October of 2012. Sandy Support Massapequa Style is a Facebook group of close to 900 members that has worked with Adopt a House in co-hosting events like the one held Saturday in Baton Rouge.
“We’re an organization that’s been dealing with Sandy up here in New York, so we totally understand what it’s like, especially that first Christmas,” Adopt a House executive director Michele Insinga said. “So we just wanted to give back to the community as others had given to us four years ago.”
Insinga said the party grew out of the organization’s involvement with a Louisiana-based Facebook group called “Adopt a Louisiana Family For Christmas!” The group invites sponsors to connect with and donate to flood victims.
Prior to hosting the party, Adopt a House connected with several families through the Facebook group and was able to send presents to 37 children.
Beth Henry, an Adopt a House volunteer and creator of Sandy Support Massapequa Style, played a big role in organizing the party. She said Adopt a House knew early on that it wanted to provide support for the affected families during the holiday season, but had just a week-and-a-half notice from a donor that its members would have the opportunity to host a party.
Making everything come together on such short notice, she said, was something of a “Christmas miracle.”
“This weekend four years ago, I was at a party like this for my girls when we lost our house after Hurricane Sandy,” Henry said. “It was really, really important for me to make this a great event because it’s all about paying it forward when we can.”
Baton Rouge resident Lisa LeDoux and her daughter Finley are just two of the many Louisianians who are still unable to move back into their homes. Their family has been displaced since Aug. 12, the day the flooding started, and LeDoux saw the Christmas party as a way to reward her daughter for “how big of a trooper she had been.”
“She’s been awesome throughout this whole process,” LeDoux said. “I saw that and I normally wouldn’t reach out to something like this, but thought she could use a great day, and it’s been perfect.”
The pair said their favorite part of the day was seeing Santa pulling up to the party in a red Ferrari decorated with holiday wreaths and toting his iconic bag of gifts.
A pair of elves decked out in red and white striped tights and colorful hats sang classic Christmas songs like “Santa Claus Is Coming to To Town” and “Jingle Bells” as they ushered the children to gather around Santa’s chair, where their gifts had been laid out.
One by one Santa called the kids up to receive a Christmas present, which had been individually purchased for them by the Adopt a House volunteers based on their Christmas lists. The gifts included sets of blocks and kits filled with markers and other art supplies.
Insinga said one of the main goals in throwing the party was to take the children out of their difficult situations for a day, giving them a chance to experience the holiday season even though their families might be dealing with serious financial burdens.
“Maybe their parents don’t have time to go bring them to go see Santa,” she said. “They may not have the money to give them this year because of the obvious reasons. But we just wanted them to have something so that they weren’t forgotten in the holiday season because this is what people did for us in that first year.”
- BY ROSE VELAZQUEZ | Special to The Advocate