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Island Park couple floored by nonprofit's fixes to Sandy-ravaged home

United Friends of America volunteers Debbie Zagaja and

United Friends of America volunteers Debbie Zagaja and Paul Jurgens laying down a floor in a home damaged by superstorm Sandy in Island Park April 4, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Island Park residents John and Marianne Angelo hope to go home for good on Friday -- 2½ years after superstorm Sandy severely damaged their house.

The Angelos were weeks away from having to vacate a Baldwin apartment where they have been staying while trying to repair their home, which Sandy filled with 5 feet of water. But they had nowhere to go.

"It was the darkest thing," Marianne Angelo, 54, said. "We had to get out of there."

One of the last obstacles to returning home was installation of wooden floors they purchased seven months ago. John Angelo, 57, said they had received quotes of about $2,000, which they could not afford because both are on disability. "We just don't have the money to do it," he said.

Then, the couple saw a News 12 Long Island report about Freeport-based United Friends of America, a 2-month-old nonprofit that helps people who cannot afford home contracting work, including six Sandy households.

They reached out to Ben Jackson, president of the nonprofit and founder of a Freeport-based contracting company. Jackson and his team of about eight volunteers were out on Saturday installing the Angelo's floors, free of charge.

"I appreciate everything these guys are doing," Marianne Angelo said. "They are angels walking on the earth."

Until August, the couple said they had received $3,300 in monthly rent from New York Rising's Interim Mortgage Assistance Program.

John Angelo said the $5,800-a-month cost for the mortgage and rent has been a struggle; they received help from their adult children and are still two months behind on mortgage payments.

Despite that, they are happy to be heading home.

"It's a blessing," John Angelo said. "Without them, I don't know what I would have done. Everything they said, they came through."

Jackson said he was thrilled to see the couple's relief at the prospect of a homecoming. "I love it," he said. "That's why I do it."

Before forming United Friends of America, his contracting company had done the same kind of volunteer work for years, helping people who could not afford home repairs.

He and his team have assisted on about 25 Sandy-related home repairs with nonprofit Friends of Freeport. They also worked with Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, among others.

"It's hard to believe that people do this for others," Marianne Angelo said.

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