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Prom Goes On for Sandy Victims

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IMG: via Shutterstock.com

For victims of Superstorm Sandy, which hit New York City and much of the east coast in October 2012, saving up money for a prom dress is likely an unrealistic goal. Many families had their homes and lives shattered when the brutal storm hit, leaving them with nothing but their lives and the clothes on their backs. Homes and possessions were not among those spared, and rebuilding from the ground up has made life hard for many.

But for teenagers trying to move forward, prom isn’t something that is likely to be forgotten. Though they may be struggling through a personal hardship at home, that doesn’t take away the fact that for many, attending prom is a rite of passage. Girls who are juniors or seniors may have dreamed for the past few years about getting the perfect dress and having the time of their lives before they head off to college or work. But for the tens of thousands of families who are just trying to get their lives back together, being able to afford a prom dress isn’t likely to be something they can do.

That’s what the nonprofit group Where to Turn has decided to do something about. The group collected over a thousand prom dresses this year—and they plan to pass them all out to teens who had homes and cars destroyed during the storm. The dresses were collected not just from generous givers (individuals and businesses) in the New York area, but were also sent in from around the country.

And now that prom season is here, the group has started getting the dresses to those who need them. They held a free dress expo on Saturday, April 6th at a Staten Island high school. About 125 teenagers came to the event, perusing the gowns and choosing one to take home. There were also about 250 pairs of donated shoes and $5,000 in donated hair items from Conair. The dresses (all 1,000) had all been dry cleaned for free by a Staten Island dry cleaning company.

“Right now, people are rebuilding and they don’t have enough money to take care of the normal day-to-day things… things that, you know, kids really shouldn’t miss out on,” said Dennis McKeon, who is the Executive Director at Where to Turn. With hundreds more dresses to give away, McKeon says the group is working on organizing other free dress expos in hard hit areas like Queens and the Rockaways.

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Sandy Relief Foundation Facing Scrutiny

Nearly four months after Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast, one major charity is having its operations and motives questioned. The Sandy Relief Foundation raised about $1 million in the wake of the storm, but according to an investigation by the Asbury Park Press, few of those funds have been released. It’s also not a tax-exempt organization, as its website claims.

The Sandy Relief Foundation is run by John Sandberg and his girlfriend, Christina Terraccino. Sandberg says he began planning for the foundation just before Sandy hit New Jersey and records indicate that the two filed paperwork to incorporate the foundation as a nonprofit corporation in New Jersey on October 30, 2012.

Though it’s not officially tax exempt, the two founders claim that tax exemptions can be filed retroactively once they gain official nonprofit status. The couple is getting help on their IRS application from Melanie Swift, who is a nonprofit expert. She said she had told the two to take down the “tax-exempt” status claim previously.

According to Sandberg, the delay in funds distribution is due to a large backlog of applicants. He says those on the waiting list should receive gift cards within 30 days if they qualify for aid.

There are some who have already received aid from the Foundation, such as Michael Armstrong, who says he was given two gift cards to Lowe’s totaling $500.
They were gracious enough to stop in the Highlands and they checked everything out and they gave us gift cards,” he said.

But because the foundation isn’t officially registered in New Jersey—or any other state—it technically isn’t supposed to be allowed to fund raise there. Many are beginning to question the operations of the organization as a whole. A few other details uncovered by the Asbury Park Press make Sandberg seem less than trustworthy. He never received a degree from Steton Hall University (as the resume claims he did) and two of the foundations corporate sponsors say they’re not affiliated with the charity at all.

The Sandy Relief Foundation’s website claims that it was founded “by the victoms for the victims” of the storm. “We decided to take it upon ourselves to bring attention to our neighbors in need of immediate relief. With no funding, and limited resources we started our journey to raise donation to bring necessary supplies to local shelters, restore power, clean up debris, and rebuild communities,” it reads. “With an anticipated 6-8 year recovery and 2 year clean up this will not be a sprint, it will be a marathon.”