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Storm-shocked community gets celebration day

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Photo gallery

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Children sit on Santa's lap at the Sorrentino Recreation Center in Far Rockaway. Photo by Steve Mosc
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Iman Brantley holds her son Demetri, 6 months, as he gets a taste of his gift during Everything Day in Far Rockaway. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Shayla Johnson, 2, seeks out a dance partner at the Sorrentino Recreation Center in Far Rockaway. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Children dance in the Sorrentino Recreation Center's gym. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Amira Gibson's face is painted with a heart. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Youngsters get a closer look at their presents. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Shamika Mariano holds her daughter Zaria, 1 1/2, during Everything Day. Photo by Christina Santucci

Youngsters displaced by Hurricane Sandy’s wrath this fall were given a unique gift on Saturday: a day to celebrate everything.

The city Parks Department’s recreation staff created an “Everything Day” after hearing that members of the Sorrentino Recreation Center’s after-school program were not able to go trick-or-treating for Halloween, in many cases spent Thanksgiving away from home and were not able to gear up for Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations.

The recreation center, at 18-48 Cornaga Ave. in Far Rockaway, was decked out with a haunted house in the basement, a Thanksgiving feast in the gym and Santa Claus himself with a treasure trove of gifts upstairs.

“These families missed out on the opportunities we all take for granted,” said Chaleene Nash, manager of the recreation center. “They couldn’t celebrate these holidays because the streets were not safe for Halloween and a lot of them didn’t have a home for Thanksgiving.”

Nash said the children were beaming as they visited the festively decorated rooms. In one room, the youngsters screamed with frightened delight at various Halloween decorations, then ate Halloween-themed treats prepared by the kids’ culinary program at Jamaica’s Vic Hanson Field House.

After a break to give thanks in the gym, children were led in groups upstairs to meet Santa Claus and to receive gifts from Derek Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to help children make healthy life choices, and make an ornament to decorate the center’s giving tree.

“This is my favorite day of the year so far,” said Michael Hitchens, before running back to the Thanksgiving feast with an armful of gifts.

Far Rockaway was one of the hardest hit areas in the borough following the October superstorm. Besides the massive flooding and wind damage, some residents struggled for weeks without power.

Nash said the neighborhood was in rough shape, but she believes it is on its way back — finally.

“It was slow going for a while here, but the streets are starting to fill up again,” she said, adding that Everything Day was as much for parents as it was for the children.

“The hurricane didn’t stop the holidays from coming and most parents just want their kids to be happy and forget their troubles. We wanted them to come here and have a place to celebrate and make the holidays happen for them.”

For Ruth Hernandez, who works with the kids’ culinary program, the day was also good for a lesson or two.

“The kids I brought here from the Vic Hanson house are here to be helpers,” she said. “We are here to give and not to receive.”

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

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