Story by Joellen Barak, special to American Red Cross
Mark and Antoinette Inabinet and their children have been living in a hotel since Superstorm Sandy destroyed their home and all their belongings. Through the holidays, they had few reasons to celebrate. So to see his children playing and laughing joyfully last Saturday at New York’s Hard Rock Café brought tears to Inabinet’s eyes.
"This is the happiest I've seen my children in two months,” Mark Inabinet said. “I cannot say thank you enough for all the American Red Cross has done for us. This is so special."
The Inabinets, along with 40 other families—a total of 82 adults and 93 children—who lost their homes and possessions because of Sandy, attended a special “Winter Wonderland” celebration hosted by the Hard Rock Café in conjunction with the Red Cross on the morning of January 12.
Decked out with shiny balloons all around and toy cars on the tables, the Café was transformed into a large playground. The dance floor was littered with giant foam blocks for building; one wall was lined with an art table for drawing and painting. Children could have their faces painted or get a glitter tattoo. Jugglers taught them how to spin plates while using a hula hoop, and a balloon artist made fanciful balloon hats.
Characters from the kids’ show SpongeBob Squarepants gave hugs, posed for photos and danced with the party-goers. Former New York Knicks basketball star John Wallace signed autographs, played with the children and had his photo taken with them.
While the children were playing, backstage was a “shopping” area, where parents could select from a wide variety of items donated by several of the corporate partners. Every adult had a personal shopper to help them select from the coats, clothing, toys, scarves, games, and books. There were even volunteers ready to wrap each item if parents wanted to present them to their children as gifts.
Some of the books were donated by guests attending holiday parties hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden. They were collected and distributed by the Red Cross and through their partner, Save the Children.
Gifts were also generously donated by Brooks Brothers, Disney, the KIDZ Foundation, Michael Kors, the New York Knicks and Rangers, Walgreens and Uniqlo.
The event was staffed by volunteers from the Red Cross and corporate participants from AECOM, Amex 1, Brooks Brothers, Kenneth Cole, Clearnet, Disney, Kids In Distress, LCH, the New York Knicks, Samaritan Village, Viacom, Walgreens and Wells Fargo. The activities and characters were provided by My House of Magic, Jen Slaw, and Coco Events.
Before he left, Inabinet reiterated, “We can’t tell you how grateful we are for this party. We will never forget it.”