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Story - News

Jan 2, 2010 1:08 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Despite tough times, Springs family rises to a holiday challenge

Jan 2, 2010 1:08 AM

Red velvet dresses with lace trim hang from the doorknobs of Joy’s cabinets. Small, glittered notebooks are packaged in tulle bags and lined neatly on her couch. Boxes of crayons, bags of M&Ms, packs of flash cards and an assortment of other trinkets and school supplies clutter her coffee table. A varied collection of brightly colored Christmas gifts fills Joy’s living room, but her bank account is empty.

“I’d say I’m down to about $2,000,” she said.

The Springs resident, who just paid off her rent for a year because she’s afraid she’ll go completely broke before that, is new to poverty.

Joy—not her real name—said she grew up wealthy and abroad, raised her two children on the East End without them wanting for anything, and owned three homes, including the large Springs house she lived in for 13 years. But one by one, she said, those things fell apart this year.

The economy has left her boutique in the red and a looming medical problem has left her unable to work and facing hospital time. Early symptoms—including severe muscle spasms that have led to dangerous, uncontrollable falls—have her doctors considering chronic Lyme Disease as the best case scenario, multiple sclerosis as the worst. She and her husband are going through a divorce. Her mother died this year. The $70,000 inheritance she was left is nearly gone and she isn’t making any other money.

But the gifts that cover Joy’s couch will not sit under the mother-of-two’s Christmas tree this week. Instead, they will be donated. Instead of being helped by the Springs School’s Adopt a Family program, she has decided to help others.

Maritza Santos, the Springs School social worker and coordinator of the Adopt a Family program, said Joy was on the needy family list herself, but when Ms. Santos checked in to see if her family would like to be an adoptee this holiday season, Joy turned the tables on her. She adopted three families and went beyond that, offering to make gift bags filled with smaller items for about 60 kids.

“I often have people who are on the list that want to help out. They don’t want to just take and not give something back,” said Ms. Santos, so families will often help with distribution or packing boxes. “But have I ever had someone who needed help themselves offer to adopt another family? No, never.”

The Adopt a Family program has a long history of providing presents for children whose parents can’t afford them. Community members bring the presents to Ms. Santos, who gives them to the parents to give to their children on Christmas. There are similar programs in many other communities, including Montauk, Amagansett and East Hampton. Ms. Santos said that last year there were 15 families on the list, this year there are 40. Other East Hampton school districts have seen a similar rise in numbers, but Springs has seen the largest increase. In all communities, every family on the list had been adopted by mid-December.

Joy said that over the year she’s taken small steps toward easing her financial burden, including moving into a rented home, choosing a government-sponsored health insurance program for her children and transferring them from private to public school, but she said she wasn’t ready to accept help from others.

“There’s still a lot of pride in poverty,” she said, adding that she felt she still had something to give.

Joy said she hoped to see the holiday season breathe life back into her boutique, but instead she hasn’t seen even a penny of profit in months. Facing the reality that she’ll soon have to close its doors for good, she said she knew she could use her leftover inventory—mostly girls’ clothing and accessories—to help others. She also called in the help of her two daughters, Hope, 11, and Victoria, 8, who she said were more than happy to donate their old clothes and other belongings.

“My kids know how lucky they’ve been,” she said. “They got laptops for Christmas when I had money. When I heard there were so many children who would go without on Christmas, I nearly cried.”

Joy said her late mother had been her source of support and she has had a difficult time dealing with her death after complications during surgery for a routine procedure. Joy said her mother was an active fund-raiser for Rwanda after the country’s 1994 genocide, and she is trying to keep her mother’s spirit alive in her own philanthropy.

“This is a little bit of a therapy, actually. It throws me into a challenge,” she said.

Joy moved her daughters into the new house in October, and bags of clothes and items that haven’t found a home yet still sit in the hallway and line the far walls of other rooms. She said there are still boxes full of things from her mother’s estate that she hasn’t had the emotional wherewithal to sort through, and between two full sets of furniture from her old house, she had to chose which pieces would fit in the new space and which to discard. Joy has opted not to pay a cable or internet bill. Instead, she and her daughters sit around the fireplace at night and play board games.

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Life Is Good!
Joy - you and your family are good to the core !!
God bless you !
By SagHarborBob (91), Sag Harbor on Dec 22, 09 6:22 PM
Great Christmas story
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Dec 22, 09 8:29 PM
Peace to you and your kids for the new year.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Dec 23, 09 10:21 AM
Joy, you are blessed more than you know. I once owned a business and my husband and family lived what most people think is the "good life". I lost everything about 6 years ago, and I do mean everything. I had to leave Long Island, which broke my heart, and come back to a small town in OH and live in public housing.

I would never have gotten through this without having been raised in a "poor" home as a child. This is not the bad experience that everyone may think it is, if the child ...more
By justus1 (2), Portsmouth on Dec 23, 09 6:11 PM
True givers work behind the scenes and don't seek the spotlight. I don't find this woman to be so incredibly amazing. There are many unsung heroes that exist in our everyday lives here that don't feel the need to have a news story dedicated to their acts of kindness. I actually find the article condescending really. We're all supposed to laud this family for their newly found appreciation for what is routine life for many who live here year round. Sorry to be a debbie downer, but why not highlight ...more
By trublnocknatmydr (35), East Hampton on Dec 28, 09 11:53 PM