The holiday season, post Hurricane Sandy, falls far short of festive for many struggling families who just can't afford Christmas presents for their children.
Mary, a Riverhead resident who asked that her last name not be disclosed, is facing unthinkable hardship.
Disabled for five years since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and cervical spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column in the neck, Mary is unable to work; her husband was laid off last year and has been unable to find new employment since.
The couple has two teenage daughters, 16 and 17, who go to McGann-Mercy on scholarship.
The wrath of Hurricane Sandy was enough to send the family, which had been barely scraping by, over the precipice into financial crisis.
"We had to declare bankruptcy," she said.
A tree fell on their home, bounced off the roof, and took down power lines, Mary said. Although the Long Island Power Authority put the lines up, there were other electrical and plumbing bills for which her family was deemed responsible.
They applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance but were told to send in a claim via their homeowners' insurance. Caught in a Catch 22, Mary said since the amount of repairs was less than the deductible, that avenue made no sense.
Right now, the family is facing $800 in plumber and electrician bills, a daunting amount.
"For us, in our situation, that's impossible," she said.
In addition, five years ago, Mary, who had worked at a preschool, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and is on Medicaid; finding a specialist to treat her illness that takes Medicaid, she said, is difficult.
Unable to work, when her husband was laid off, the once two-income family was forced to live on approximately $400 per week in unemployment.
Hurricane Sandy, Mary said, plunged them into even darker circumstances. "This puts me in a state of panic," she said. "How are we going to pay for this? How are we going to remove the tree?"
Mary said she never dreamed her family would end up desperate for help. "I never thought I wouldn't be able to buy Christmas gifts for my daughters. That's what's killing me the most."
Last week, Mary wrote a heartfelt plea to the Rotary Club of Riverhead: "Today I am humbly asking for your help. I have fibromyalgia and spinal stenosis. My husband has been out of work for over a year. We just declared bankruptcy when Sandy hit. Extensive repairs needed to be done and every avenue I have looked to for help, has denied us. We had almost nothing before -- and Sandy totally wiped us out. I cannot give my girls a Christmas this year and it's breaking my heart. Please help me if you can. Please spread the word. I need help paying repairs from Sandy and for Christmas," she wrote.
Mary said she was told that to be chosen as an adopt-a-family, her children should speak first with their guidance counselor at school; they are pursuing that route.
In the meantime, Mary listed what her family needs most urgently. Her girls, women's sizes 5-6 and 2-3, need warm, winter fleece tops, sweatshirts, and warm, fuzzy socks.
"They're teenagers and they're into music and clothes," she said. An iTunes or Tanger gift card would brighten her children's Christmas, she said. The girls also need school supplies, including notebooks, looseleaf paper, and pens.
Her husband, mens' size large, needs long-sleeved, thermal shirts.
Mary, size womens' 2X, does not have a coat, and needs one badly.
Also on her list are womens' boots, size 7.
The family is also in need of food -- especially gluten-free food, which Mary needs for her special diet.
Mary's simple, heartfelt Christmas wish? "I would love to have the ingredients to make Christmas cookies, with my girls -- like we used to do."
The whole family, she said, needs hats, scarves, and gloves.
"I feel very humble, asking for help," Mary said. "I would be forever grateful to anyone that would help us."
Despite their current circumstances, Mary said she and her daughters believe firmly in helping others and volunteering -- they donate used items to charity, so that they can lend a hand to those facing the same financial challenges.
"We want to give back, too," she said.
Mary said one other hope is that Long Island Cares could host an event in Riverhead or nearby, to help those in need locally.
After facing what feels like a constant stream of rejection when asking for help, Mary said, "I'm frustrated. Why won't anyone help us?"