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Saturday
Dec082012

'Secret Sandy' Brings Christmas Presents to Hurricane Victims

Joy Huang(NEW YORK) -- Superstorm Sandy came just before the holidays destroying mostly everything in her path.

But she hasn't destroyed the Christmas spirit for those affected by her wrath.

Thanks to Secret Sandy, two women are making holiday wish lists a reality for families affected by the historic storm.

Co-founders Joy Huang and Kimberley Berdy created Secret Sandy, an online gift-giving exchange where donors can give anonymously by accessing the wish lists and needs of families through Amazon.

The concept was born days after the storm when Huang volunteered at St. Francis de Sales parish in Belle Harbor, one of the wrecked New York City neighborhoods on the Rockaway peninsula.

"After seeing the devastation, there were piles of cars just dead or in the middle of the street," said Huang. "I started asking myself how can I help? How can I help just one person? Two people? And then it spread."

Huang noticed inside the church there were donations of diapers, bleach, batteries and other bare necessities to clean up homes and take care of immediate emergencies.

"People just gave and gave and gave," said Huang. "We wanted to make sure that generosity extended though to the holidays."

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, Huang and Berdy teamed up with City Harvest to brainstorm a gift-giving idea. Huang realized that many families did need the essentials, but said "kids still need to be kids."

Together, with their friends, Berdy and Huang created the website for Secret Sandy and launched the site the day before Thanksgiving. So far, the site has 2,100 registered volunteers and over 850 children and families who have asked for post-Sandy help this holiday season. Donations have come as far as the Netherlands.

"It's a new twist on an old theme," said Huang. "It's a modern take on something very traditional."

The way the site works is affected families that need Christmas help can download and mail in or fill out a letter to their Secret Sandy. Letters ask kids to answer questions like 'The thing that I miss most is...' and 'I hope that I'm soon able to...'

"I've read letters where a kid watched his Lego set float away," said Huang. "Another said he misses school and another simply wrote, 'I hope I will feel normal again.'"

"Every spare minute of my day is dedicated to making this happen, so when I'm up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and I read a letter from some family and their son or daughter at age 4 or 5 says all they want is "normalcy" - the least I can do is try to help give them that for a few minutes because no child should have to want things to be normal at that age," said Berdy.

Also in the letter are four areas for kids to list items on their wish list with links to "moderately priced" items found on Amazon. Those letters are then distributed to donors and the wish list is shared among several donors.

"We ask that people are putting moderately priced items on their wish list because we want to be respectful to people who have open hearts," said Huang. "We can't assume they have open pockets."

Because Secret Sandy has a surplus of donors, many donors are asking if they can help without waiting for a wish list. Huang and Berdy are encouraging donors to purchase and send gift cards to the address found on the website.

"You get these very sad people who are just broken from this who say, 'I didn't have insurance,' 'FEMA denied us,' 'We lost our car,'" said Huang. "We're asking people to send in gift cards to Target, Home Depot and Loews so people can get necessities." This isn't the first instance where anonymous giving is helping those in need for the holidays. In Oregon, one secret angel paid off the lay away accounts of five individuals at a Toys 'R Us including a single mother of two. Earlier this week, the store saw another angel pay off the lay away balances of unsuspecting families.

"It's nice to see people are so generous and so kind and supportive to help people they don't know," said Huang.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio