Christine Papola, left, and Jeana Lewis, director of the St....

Christine Papola, left, and Jeana Lewis, director of the St. Kilian Parish's social ministry outreach in Farmingdale, which helped her get back on her feet after a traumatic brain injury and homelessness. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Christine Papola had a long, successful career as an office manager and medical records expert. Then, one day she got hit by a truck and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

She went into a tailspin and ended up losing her job, her husband and her place to live. For months this year, she was homeless in Farmingdale, sleeping behind stores and in a park on concrete under a bandshell.

Today, Papola is celebrating what she calls a “Christmas miracle.” She is getting her life back together. She has found a place to live, and is receiving some of the medical help she needs.

It is thanks to the workers at the social outreach office at St. Kilian Parish, whom she calls her “guardian angels,” as well as Farmingdale business owners and residents who helped when she had all but given up.

The couple who quietly placed a massage table behind their business so she could sleep on it. The nanny who brought her a subzero sleeping bag. The cake shop owner who let her come inside. The elderly couple who invited her to live with them for five days to get out of the rain. The beauty salon owner who brought her inside to wash her hair.

The outreach workers “are angels on earth,” Papola said. And the Farmingdale business owners and residents “took a lot of pity on me and helped me out in little ways and big that mean so, so very much.”

“I want everybody to know … that there are still good people out there, and they are trying to do good things, against all odds,” she said.

Jeana Lewis, who heads the parish social outreach, said the outpouring of goodwill “is a beautiful thing to see. Especially at this time of the year, it warms your heart even more.”

“She’s been given hope and her life back,” Lewis said.

The Christmas spirit — that Christian ideal of helping your fellow man or woman epitomized in holiday movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” — came early this year to Farmingdale, as evidenced by the woman who became a fixture in the community.

Papola, 57, once a thriving professional, pushed a beach cart along Main Street stuffed with all her earthly possessions. It was her hometown, but it seemed like a different world after the accident.

She had graduated from Farmingdale High School in 1984, and soon landed a job at a storage and microfilm business. Over 16 years, she rose from entry level to production manager. Later she became a records manager at a cardiovascular medical office.

About a decade ago, the high cost of living on Long Island pushed her to move upstate. One day in 2016, while crossing the street in front of her house in a small village near Utica, she was hit by a truck.

She never had a chance to get out of the way, she said.

She was hospitalized, underwent treatments, and partially recovered, though problems lingered. Basic math she previously did in a flash became mystifying. The medical evaluation business she used to work at offered to bring her back, but as a receptionist instead of a team leader.

Then COVID-19 hit, the business hit hard times, and she was laid off. Her husband, tired of dealing with her mental health problems, left her, she said. Unable to pay the rent herself, she became homeless for the first time.

Papola decided to come back home to Farmingdale. She ended up in transitional living facilities in the region and then on the streets.

She would wander trendy Main Street with its bustling scene of new restaurants and stores, trying to figure out where to sleep, how to eat, what was going to become of her life.

“The people around town got to know that I am the homeless woman who is surfing the streets, hoping for better days,” she said.

She would show up at the church outreach office, hoping they could help make those better days come sooner.

Lewis recalls how Papola would arrive with her beach cart, stuffed with items including couch cushions someone anonymously left near the park so she didn’t have to sleep on the concrete. Sometimes they were drenched from the rain, Lewis said.

“She would come and we would talk at the window and she would tell me that she’s really starting to break,” Lewis said. “I kept telling her not to break yet. We’re going to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The office would give her food, clothing and encouragement. And the workers kept hunting for a place for Papola to live.

Meanwhile, business owners, workers and others stepped in, too.

“People would see me and do these wonderful things,” she said. “I’m not an addict of any kind and I mind my business. I’m sitting on a bench waiting for God to find me a place to live.”

One day, a nanny saw her near an alcove at a church where she would sleep on rainy nights. “Are you homeless?” the nanny asked.

Soon she returned with the sleeping bag.

The owner of a bake shop, the Chocolate Duck, spotted Papola another day and invited her inside as often as she wanted, she said.

The owner, Harry Cohen, told Newsday it was an easy decision.

“I’m of the opinion that we’re all the same and everybody falls on hard luck,” he said. “And if God puts a person in front of us to help them, we help them.”

Papola started her odyssey on the streets of Farmingdale in June. By mid-November, Lewis and her team had good news: They had a found a place for her to live.

It is an apartment in Baldwin run by CEC Health Care, a Bethpage-based nonprofit that provides housing for people with mental health issues.

A few weeks ago, Lewis’ workers drove Papola to her new place in a van loaded with items to help her move in. As Papola slowly opened the boxes over the next few days, she cried at the small touches they had provided: knickknacks, a large scarf she could use as a window curtain, a coffee and tea maker.

“I felt like a person again,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

As her new life begins, she dreams of getting back into the workforce, perhaps with an agency like CEC where she can help people like herself. She also hopes to get all the mental and physical health care she needs.

Overall, she is filled with gratitude this Christmas for what she called the “quiet charity” of so many people.

“This is miraculous, what’s happened to me,” she said. “All of the people who did these anonymous random acts of kindness saved my life.”

Christine Papola had a long, successful career as an office manager and medical records expert. Then, one day she got hit by a truck and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

She went into a tailspin and ended up losing her job, her husband and her place to live. For months this year, she was homeless in Farmingdale, sleeping behind stores and in a park on concrete under a bandshell.

Today, Papola is celebrating what she calls a “Christmas miracle.” She is getting her life back together. She has found a place to live, and is receiving some of the medical help she needs.

It is thanks to the workers at the social outreach office at St. Kilian Parish, whom she calls her “guardian angels,” as well as Farmingdale business owners and residents who helped when she had all but given up.

The couple who quietly placed a massage table behind their business so she could sleep on it. The nanny who brought her a subzero sleeping bag. The cake shop owner who let her come inside. The elderly couple who invited her to live with them for five days to get out of the rain. The beauty salon owner who brought her inside to wash her hair.

The outreach workers “are angels on earth,” Papola said. And the Farmingdale business owners and residents “took a lot of pity on me and helped me out in little ways and big that mean so, so very much.”

“I want everybody to know … that there are still good people out there, and they are trying to do good things, against all odds,” she said.

Outpouring of goodwill

Jeana Lewis, who heads the parish social outreach, said the outpouring of goodwill “is a beautiful thing to see. Especially at this time of the year, it warms your heart even more.”

“She’s been given hope and her life back,” Lewis said.

The Christmas spirit — that Christian ideal of helping your fellow man or woman epitomized in holiday movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” — came early this year to Farmingdale, as evidenced by the woman who became a fixture in the community.

Papola, 57, once a thriving professional, pushed a beach cart along Main Street stuffed with all her earthly possessions. It was her hometown, but it seemed like a different world after the accident.

She had graduated from Farmingdale High School in 1984, and soon landed a job at a storage and microfilm business. Over 16 years, she rose from entry level to production manager. Later she became a records manager at a cardiovascular medical office.

About a decade ago, the high cost of living on Long Island pushed her to move upstate. One day in 2016, while crossing the street in front of her house in a small village near Utica, she was hit by a truck.

She never had a chance to get out of the way, she said.

She was hospitalized, underwent treatments, and partially recovered, though problems lingered. Basic math she previously did in a flash became mystifying. The medical evaluation business she used to work at offered to bring her back, but as a receptionist instead of a team leader.

Then COVID-19 hit, the business hit hard times, and she was laid off. Her husband, tired of dealing with her mental health problems, left her, she said. Unable to pay the rent herself, she became homeless for the first time.

Papola decided to come back home to Farmingdale. She ended up in transitional living facilities in the region and then on the streets.

She would wander trendy Main Street with its bustling scene of new restaurants and stores, trying to figure out where to sleep, how to eat, what was going to become of her life.

“The people around town got to know that I am the homeless woman who is surfing the streets, hoping for better days,” she said.

Belongings in beach cart

She would show up at the church outreach office, hoping they could help make those better days come sooner.

Lewis recalls how Papola would arrive with her beach cart, stuffed with items including couch cushions someone anonymously left near the park so she didn’t have to sleep on the concrete. Sometimes they were drenched from the rain, Lewis said.

“She would come and we would talk at the window and she would tell me that she’s really starting to break,” Lewis said. “I kept telling her not to break yet. We’re going to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The office would give her food, clothing and encouragement. And the workers kept hunting for a place for Papola to live.

Meanwhile, business owners, workers and others stepped in, too.

“People would see me and do these wonderful things,” she said. “I’m not an addict of any kind and I mind my business. I’m sitting on a bench waiting for God to find me a place to live.”

One day, a nanny saw her near an alcove at a church where she would sleep on rainy nights. “Are you homeless?” the nanny asked.

Soon she returned with the sleeping bag.

The owner of a bake shop, the Chocolate Duck, spotted Papola another day and invited her inside as often as she wanted, she said.

The owner, Harry Cohen, told Newsday it was an easy decision.

“I’m of the opinion that we’re all the same and everybody falls on hard luck,” he said. “And if God puts a person in front of us to help them, we help them.”

Apartment in Baldwin

Papola started her odyssey on the streets of Farmingdale in June. By mid-November, Lewis and her team had good news: They had a found a place for her to live.

It is an apartment in Baldwin run by CEC Health Care, a Bethpage-based nonprofit that provides housing for people with mental health issues.

A few weeks ago, Lewis’ workers drove Papola to her new place in a van loaded with items to help her move in. As Papola slowly opened the boxes over the next few days, she cried at the small touches they had provided: knickknacks, a large scarf she could use as a window curtain, a coffee and tea maker.

“I felt like a person again,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

As her new life begins, she dreams of getting back into the workforce, perhaps with an agency like CEC where she can help people like herself. She also hopes to get all the mental and physical health care she needs.

Overall, she is filled with gratitude this Christmas for what she called the “quiet charity” of so many people.

“This is miraculous, what’s happened to me,” she said. “All of the people who did these anonymous random acts of kindness saved my life.”

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