Holding a candy cane in one hand, 1-year-old Sydney Devito decorated a cookie at an event that provided hundreds of Long Beach residents a night out to share in holiday festivities.
Minutes before, she helped her mother, Laura Devito, adorn a small Christmas tree with tinsel, red beads and gingerbread ornaments -- not to bring home, but back to their hotel room. The family have been staying in Garden City hotels for the past 42 days since superstorm Sandy hit.
“Our home was pretty much destroyed; it’s not easy to see your city in shambles,” said Devito, 32, a lifelong resident of Long Beach. “This holiday season hasn’t been easy, but tonight is nice.”
Devito was among the nearly 800 Long Beach residents who came out to meet Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang at the Long Beach Ice Arena Wednesday evening.
Dari Marder, chief marketing officer at Iconix Brand Group, which represents the Peanuts brand, said the company wanted to give back after superstorm Sandy devastated Long Beach on Oct. 29, tearing up the boardwalk, flooding homes and displacing thousands of residents.
“It’s really just a way to bring smiles to a community that has been through so much,” said Marder, of Glen Cove. “ ... To give people a couple of hours of fun with their family and to bring a little joy to their holiday season after what they’ve been through is really important.”
The first 300 families received a live mini-Christmas tree to decorate at the event.
“This is something that the whole family can come out and enjoy together,” Devito said. “It makes me feel better to know that I’m not the only one going through this right now. It keeps me positive.”
Children sat on beanbags on the floor, watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” while other children decorated tree ornaments and cookies and ate grilled cheese sandwiches and alphabet soup.
Melissa Aldewereld-Moss, who brought her sons Geddy, 4, and Ryder, 7, said the event helped bring her family together this holiday season.
“We love Snoopy, and I can’t think of a better way to put a smile on everybody’s faces,” said Aldewereld-Moss, 42, of Long Beach. “It’s the greatest thing. I have not been this happy in weeks.”
Aldewereld-Moss recalled the moment her family returned to their home on East Bay Drive to their recently finished basement submerged in 9 feet of water. She lost most of her wedding photos and a T-shirt she cherished after wearing it when giving birth to both her sons.
“We lost things that had been passed down from generation to generation,” she said. “I will never be able to share photos with my children of what my life was like growing up in Long Beach.”
Even after all Aldewereld-Moss and her family have been through, she is still optimistic that her hometown will recover.
“Long Beach people are very proud. We call ourselves Strong Beach,” she said. “We’re not accustomed to taking things from people, so it’s been hard. The kids are resilient, and the parents are socializing here. It’s bringing the community together.”