This morning, refrigerators were floating down her street in Mantoloking. But tonight, Pamela Steenland will summon the courage to tell 500 local families that it will be okay.
In spite of the physical damage that continues after Hurricane Sandy, damage that will likely force her from her Mantoloking home for about a year for repairs, Steenland saw a message that needed repeating: "If you are with your family, you are home. It doesn’t matter what house you are in. You are actually home."
With thousands displaced from the storm, including so many children, Steenland saw in others and first hand the turmoil of not being in your home, with your things.
It's brought demotivation and depression during the holiday season. And Steenland wanted to change that feeling for local children, in spite of being faced with the same problems, she said.
So Steenland reached out to the Algonquin Theater and last week asked how many tickets were left for a performance of The Magical Christmas Horse, tonight at 7 p.m.
Steenland bought 300 tickets. Now, to get them in the hands of local children whose families might be too destraught from hurricane devastation to put up holiday lights, to bake cookies, to see Santa.
"Sitting in my rental as I probably will for a year, I thought about how devastating this is, and then I thought, 'Can you imagine what this will be like for a child?'" Steenland said.
She, like so many others, had to overcome that feeling that "You can’t seem to get up and get going" after devastation. She knew that children must be feeling that way, too, and thought sending hundreds of families to see a holiday play would be an opportunity for holiday spirit.
"I bought 300 tickets. I went to all the elementary schools. They distributed the invite to these children, and it said to contact me for tickets," Steenland said.
Then, the calls starting coming in.
"Pepole are coming out of woodwork," Steenland sad. "Each and every one is saying they can’t find the same joy they had. They feel demotivated and depressed."
Being gifted tickets to a holiday play has enabled the ticketholder a chance to participate in the holidays in a way they might not have thought, or had the energy to arrange, she said.
"It's freed them up," Steenland said. "I do know what it's like. We have another four feet of water today...Arranging for repairs, assessing damage, now it feels like its starting all over again."
With the continued damage to houses, displacing thousands of familes, "home" may be completely different as families pack into rentals, move in with family or grapple with repairs. Steenland, who founded a pediatric nursing facility to care for critically ill children in their homes, said this can be its own trauma for children.
"This is true especially for children, who identify home as their room, their stuff, their toys," Steenland said.
She took to womens shelters, other shelters, elementary schools and other places in hopes of finding families to invite, so she could share this holiday spirit but also her message about the meaning of home and family.
"The message I want to convey for children, is we all think of home as a structure...When you're with your family it doesn’t matter where you are physically, you are home," she said.
A fellow storm victim, Steenland is hoping the message inspires.
"If somebody from Mantoloking can get this together despite all the struggle in my life, it might inspire someone else to get rid of their depression," she said.
Tickets are still available for tonight's show, contact Steenland at 732-573-5069 or email@example.com