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Church helps storm victims

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Youngsters (l.-r.) Liana Kerrigan and twins Taylor and Ashley Zaromatidis man a table stocked with shampoo and deodorant for hurricane victims. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Volunteer Cusio Lim sorts through cans at St. Helen's in Howard Beach. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Lana Galeno sorts through baby items at St. Helen's Church in Howard Beach. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Young volunteers line up for a photo at St. Helen's in Howard Beach. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Howard Beach residents Terry Ferrucci (l.) and Ellie Sherin volunteer their time to help out at St. Helen's Church. Photo by Christina Santucci

As Howard Beach residents cleaned up after unwelcome guest Hurricane Sandy, they were comforted by the relief efforts of one church right in their own backyard.

St. Helen’s Roman Catholic School, at 83-09 157th Ave., became the community’s go-to relief center offering displaced and distressed storm victims food, clothing, supplies and a place to recharge their phones and souls.

“A lot of these people still have no heat and no lights. This is a place where they can come and get a hot meal and take anything they might need,” said Sandy Pepitone, director of religious education. “And they can come from all neighborhoods and from all faiths.”

The relief center was the brainchild of Monsignor Alfred Lo Pinto and Donna Crockett, a parishioner and retired police officer. Donations have arrived from good-hearted residents, the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the form of water, garbage bags, bathroom items and much more, but the most appreciated feature at St. Helen’s was, undoubtedly, the hot food.

“Have you had the chili?” asked one care recipient, who chose not to be named. “I feel like I’ve been cold and wet for a month. This hot food warmed me from the inside out.”

St. Helen’s School, which teaches pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade, sustained flooding damage in the cafeteria but will reopen this week to its usual inhabitants: children.

But Pepitone said the relief center would remain as long as there is a need for it in the community and as long as there are residents willing to donate their time to provide aid.

“Seeing the people help really renews your faith in humankind,” she said. “Sometimes we got so isolated in our own worlds — to see people here helping is really heartwarming.”

Mother-and-son volunteer team Bernadette Coyoy and Jason Sanchez, who sustained little damage at their house in Lindenwood, felt it was their duty to pitch in and lend a hand to those who were far less fortunate.

“We felt guilty because we had no problems, we never even lost electricity,” said Coyoy, who welcomed neighbors and her son’s friends into the house for warmth and electricity. “We heard so many stories of people in real pain, we had to help.”

Coyoy’s son said he felt bad for friends and neighbors who suffered greatly during the storm and was quick to let his friends enjoy time in front of the television while the power was out.

“Anything they needed they could come over and get,” he said. “And we are here at St. Helen’s because there are so many people who still need our help. We have so much, it is only right to share and to help.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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