Laurie Notaro is an author, crafter, and expert at finding a good cocktail. She grew up in Phoenix, but is currently based in Eugene, Oregon. Each week, she'll be joining us to share a crafting adventure, draw a flowchart, or remember a few of her favorite things about Phoenix. This week, she's on a mission to help a friend who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy.
My friend Lucille Ascolillo, who lives in Ship Bottom, New Jersey, kept posting as Hurricane Sandy began to beat at her house that sits on Long Beach Island, a barrier island that faces the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite the order to evacuate, her 19-year-old son named Franky is a fire fighter on the island and she was determined not to leave him -- aside from the fact that she couldn't find a shelter that would also take her dog. She wasn't going to leave Sandy, ironically the dog's name, on the island alone, either.
From her posts, Lucille's friends keep track of the storm: First, the neighbor's patio furniture is blown away, then another's neighbor's boat is lost. Then the cable, internet and power go out. Then water begins seeping into the house and quickly, the house is flooded an hour before high tide. And then there's nothing. No posts.
Nothing from Lucille until hours, almost a day later, when she reappears on Facebook to tell everyone that she and her husband Bobby are safe with their children and Sandy. They'd been rescued by the National Guard. Lucille says they are sheltering at the fire station where Franky is a firefighter. We are all okay, she assures everyone, but that everything is gone -- the house, the cars, everything.
"I can't believe I'm homeless," she types, closing out her post.
The Ascolillos lost everything except what they were wearing and the oncology medication for Bobby, Lucille's husband. Bobby was a first responder on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. He spent nine months clearing the debris site at Ground Zero and has since developed terminal esophageal cancer as a result.
He and Lucille moved to Ship Bottom in order to spend whatever time he had left in the most beautiful place they could think of. Because of the high cost of Bobby's medical treatment, the Ascolillos did not have renter's insurance, and nothing they owned was covered. Their cars were also submerged during the flooding, and wont be covered under their auto insurance because of the water damage.
I know Lucille because she read my books, and we have corresponded frequently for the last several years. We have never met, but I know we'd fall into the fast-paced banter of old friends if we ever did. She's hilarious and sharp and is a constant presence on my Facebook page.
So I went to Facebook to let other readers know that someone we knew was in trouble and that maybe we could help out -- make something shitty a little less shitty. Someone suggested starting a page on Kickstarter, but the circumstances didn't meet the guidelines. Someone else suggested everribbon.com, a fundraising site.
Within 20 minutes, we had an account and url (https://www.everribbon.com/helptheascolillos). I posted it to Facebook and sent an email blast to people on my mailing list.
The response was instantaneous and incredible. In two days, we have raised $4,500 for the Ascolillos in donations of $5, $10, $200 -- whatever people felt comfortable with and could give. Other readers have traveled from Conneticuit and New York to deliver clothing, pillows, food, and dog toys to the Ascolillos, who are still living in the fire house with other people who have also lost everything.
Others are sending clothing and household items from every corner of the country to help Lucille and Bobby and their kids. They filled prescriptions for Bobby, and are mailing giftcards to Lucille's PO Box, (297 route 72 W #111 Suite 35, Manahawkin, NJ 08050) in hopes that a little from each of us can add up to a lot.
The house is uninhabitable -- what didn't float out into the Atlantic Ocean was submerged and covered in inches of mud and sand. There is no power, and efforts to re-establish gas was halted after four houses on the island exploded. For the Ascolillos, the thinness of their new life can be boiled down to the fact that the kids don't even have a second change of underwear.
They literally have nothing.
My friend Sasha, also a reader and a Facebook friend, returned from dropping off clothes and essentials to Bobby and Lucille -- whom she had never met before -- and posted this:
"I met the family and was given hugs. There were tears. I cried too. I was taken to their house where they had weathered the storm. The neighborhood was devastated. Boats slammed through houses, garage doors and house doors ripped off. Refrigerators were washed outside. 'See that green house across there?' she asked me. I replied I did. She pointed to a space next to it. 'There was a house there. I don't know where it went. A whole house ... disappeared.' We entered her house. The first thing that hit me was the smell of flooding and water. The air felt damp and heavy. Everything was covered in mud. There were marks on the walls over four feet high where the water had come in. The stove had water in it. It was easy to see the water had picked up everything downstairs and dumped it elsewhere. Dressers were moved or tipped over. A lifetime of memories were sodden, muddy, and destroyed. I looked at her in horror. Nothing appeared salvageable. What do you say? ... How unfair that this family had given so much during 911, only to have the husband end up with not only diabetes, blindness, but cancer as well."
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When it was time to go, Sasha relayed that she didn't want to leave; she wanted to stay and help them however she could, but was afraid that because of the curfews and national guard patrols at night, she wouldn't be able to get off the island to get back home.
"After I said goodbye, with hugs and an agreement we would be lifelong friends, I pulled the car down the street," Sasha said. "Then I stopped when I was out of eyeshot, and burst into tears."
To help, visit the the Ascolillos Everribbon page.