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Needy kids get shopping spree at Farmingdale Walmart
Superstorm Sandy put 2 feet of water into the first floor of Aiden Santamaria’s Freeport home, inundating his toy chest with mold and ruining his action figures and miniature trucks.
On Wednesday, Santamaria’s father surprised the 12-year-old and his two younger brothers, Cole, 7, and Owen, 6, by bringing them to a Walmart in Farmingdale to replace the toys they lost.
“We lost some of our toys because of the hurricane, so we came here to get some more,” Cole said. “I was so bummed that we had nothing to play with.”
The brothers were among the 200 children, ages 2-18, who were each given $100 from a local foundation to shop for new toys, clothes or electronics just in time for the holidays.
For the past 13 years, Tom Gubitosi has funded the event, donating $20,000 annually through the Marie and Michael Gubitosi Foundation, which honors the memories of his mother and brother.
“A lot of these kids were never put first in their lives, so today is their day,” said Gubitosi, 48, of Farmingdale. “Today’s the day they can feel special and can get whatever they want.”
Antonio Santamaria smiled, watching his three sons skip down the aisles at Walmart, grabbing each toy as if it were made of gold. He was glad to have the extra help buying Christmas presents.
“All their toys, action figures and swords were in a plastic toy chest, which filled with water,” said Santamaria, 42, of Freeport. “I’m so excited for them that they get the chance to do this.”
Volunteer Katie McBride helped Santamaria’s sons fill their shopping cart with new skateboards, swords, shotguns and action figures.
“Every child deserves that [a gift] on the holidays,” said McBride, 29, of Dix Hills. “It’s been awesome working with these kids. It’s the most rewarding thing ever.”
Many of the children involved are in foster care or programs offered by Education & Assistance Corp., a Hempstead-based nonprofit human service agency that deals with at-risk youth and individuals with substance abuse problems, among other issues.
Andrea Ramos-Topper, regional director for children services at EAC, helped match up 100 volunteers with the children who stood in line, waiting to shop.
“For some of these children, this is their only opportunity to be a child,” Ramos-Topper said. “This is an opportunity for the children to really experience what Christmas is all about. It allows them to be a child and for once not worry about what a typical child would in their situation.”
Joel Soto and his two brothers Jaiden Gomez, 8, and Jace Gomez, 6, spent hours carefully shopping for the perfect toys to bring home. He clutched his copy of Black Ops 2 for Xbox 360.
“It brings me happiness to know that Walmart is doing this for people who don’t have enough money to spend on Christmas presents,” said Soto, 12, of Central Islip. “This is so fun.”
Above: Aiden Santamaria, 12, of Freeport, and his brothers lost their toys to water damage after superstorm Sandy, so they were given a chance at Walmart in Farmingdale to pick up some new toys. (Dec. 5, 2012)