Due to the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, many Long Island families have had to spend the holiday season away from their homes.
FEMA families staying at the Best Western Mill River Manor in Rockville Centre got a taste of the holiday spirit Wednesday night, as the hotel staff threw a holiday party to give the families staying with them a chance to celebrate the "most wonderful time of the year."
“Most of these people enjoy the holidays at home but unfortunately could not do it [this year],” Mill River Manor owner Kirit Panchamia said. “... We’re bringing all of the people together so they can enjoy -- that’s what the purpose has been. Let them enjoy the holidays.”
Mill River Manor General Manager Alan Chan said the party was the least the hotel could do after hearing so many stories of people losing their houses through the holiday season.
"If you go around the whole entire hotel, you see decorations on people’s windows for the holidays," Chan said. "If you go into some of their rooms they have a Christmas tree set up and everything. It’s like 'you know what, the holidays are next week, let’s just do something good for the people here at the hotel.'"
Mayor Francis Murray was on hand to wish the families a happy holidays and to welcome them to the Rockville Centre. Murray encouraged the guests to take advantage of all the restaurants and parks that the village has to offer.
Local businesses from around Rockville Centre donated trays of food and gift baskets to be raffled off as part of a special holiday raffle. Each guest attending the party received a raffle ticket and was entered to win.
For many of the families forced from their homes, adapting to living in a hotel has been quite an adjustment.
“I’m getting used to it,” said Russell, an Island Park resident staying at the hotel. “It’s different but I don’t have to make my bed in the morning. The kids enjoy it. Eventually we’ll get home.”
“I’m still not accustomed to it yet,” Long Beach resident Vivian Lambert said. “It’s still a work in progress.”
“I have my own little kitchen, I have my refrigerator and my microwave,” Oceanside resident Adriane Hirschorn said. "It’s very, very nice and I have to say that the people downstairs in the office, they’re lovely."
Chan said that about 80 families are calling the Mill River Manor their home this holiday season with most of the families coming from places like Long Beach, Oceanside and East Rockaway.
The guests are expected to stay until at least Jan. 13, the FEMA cutoff date. After Jan. 13, FEMA will then reevaluate each case and see if it needs to be extended.
“We have about 80 families that don’t have homes right now and as they are leaving more are coming in,” Chan said. “Everyday we still get some calls with people that still need rooms.”