Island Park church, children raise funds for Hurricane Florence relief


“When you go through something like Hurricane Sandy, it makes you want to help others, and that makes you feel good about yourself,” said Saoirsie Marx, 13, after running back from delivering a cup of lemonade to a passing motorist in exchange for two quarters on Sept. 19.

Whether it’s selling sugary drinks or leaving collection baskets out for cash donations, people in Island Park are fundraising for the flood victims of North Carolina who were recently ravaged by Hurricane Florence because, they say, of their shared experience with the devastation that flood waters can bring.

“Everybody helped us and donated when we had ours, so we want to do the same for them,” said Mia Romero, 11. “And it feels really good to help out.”

At the corner of Vanderbilt Place and California Place North in Island Park, a dozen children crowded around a table stocked with pitchers of lemonade, bags of chips and a Pokémon lunchbox filled with coins that jingled when shaken. When they noticed a vehicle driving by, they swarmed, shouting words like “hurricane,” “lemonade” and “help.”

“We’re giving to the people who need it,” said Liannah Romero, 11. ‘We’re being helpful, and that’s what really matters.”

Once a year, resident Jennifer Palladino and her children invite other youngsters in the neighborhood to run a lemonade stand in front of her house to raise money for flood victims across the country. “We don’t have many adults, so we collected children,” Palladino laughed. She said the idea is to pay it forward after others stepped up to help Island Park residents after Hurricane Sandy.

“I was there when [Sandy] happened,” said Briana Dennis, 11. “I want to help people. They helped me.”

In 2016, they raised around $500 for victims in Louisiana who suffered from catastrophic flooding from prolonged rainfall. In 2017, they collected about $750 for flood victims in Texas shortly after Hurricane Harvey struck. This year, it’s for North Carolina, and as new reports on Florence flooded the airwaves, they managed to reach their goal in a day, raising just over $1,000.

According to Palladino, the money raised in past years was used for supplies such as paper, and cleaning products as well as items like gloves. “All things we needed” after Sandy, she noted. The donations were passed on to the Island Park Public Library for distribution the first year, and to St. Mary of the Isle Roman Catholic in Long Beach the second. This year, the money is being spent on TD Bank Visa gift cards — intended for gas, food and water — and given to Waves of Hope in Long Beach, a local organization that helps survivors of natural disasters.

“You got to help people out, so younger kids do it, too,” said Isabella Palladino, 11.

Sacred Heart Church in Island Park is also participating. According to Monsignor John Tutone, its pastor, the church put out collection baskets on Sept. 15 for donations, making an announcement at that evening’s Mass. The next morning, by the end of the third Mass, Sacred Heart had raised nearly $4,000.

“That was a surprise. We just put a basket by the door,” Tutone said. “They’re good people, the parishioners, and everyone remembers Sandy.”

Tutone said that fundraising of this magnitude is common for the parish. In 2016, the church donated $10,000 in San Gennaro Feast proceeds to a parish in Louisiana for its flood victims. In 2017, it did the same for Harvey flood victims in Texas.

“It’s what our faith teaches us to do — to share what we have with those who are in need,” he noted.

Every parish has an outreach program that helps people in need, Tutone added. “As Catholics, we never ask if you’re Catholic,” he said. “We only ask if you’re hungry.”

The idea to fundraise again came from Matt Ragan, a resident and Sacred Heart parishioner who’s originally from North Carolina. “When you see people go through something like this, like Island Park did in Hurricane Sandy,” Ragan, a former Marine, said, “you have an emotional connection with people who might go through the same thing.”

He was stationed in Havelock, which is a “town of marine families,” according to his wife, Hope Ragan, who was born and raised in Island Park, so it “hits home,” he added.

“Island Park is our family, and the Marine Corps is our family, and we are truly blessed to be a part of both,” Hope said. The couple head down to North Carolina on Sept. 19 to deliver the money themselves.

The following day, Ragan reported back, saying, “Everything is going good,” and added that those in the area had access to water, but no power. News reports as of press time on Monday indicated that floodwaters in some areas had yet to recede, and that there was a long road to recovery ahead.