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After Sandy, locals stretch beyond their neighborhoods to help those in need

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In the Landsdowne neighborhood of Franconia, a group of 8- and 9-year-old girls spent Saturday morning raising money for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Bundled in puffy coats, thick winter hats and gloves, they raked their neighbors’ lawns, sold baked goods and drew Thanksgiving cards to send north.

“I didn’t know hurricanes could be so dangerous,” said 9-year-old Samantha Underwood, a fourth-grader at Springfield Estates Elementary School. She had just completed a card with a rainbow and a note that said, “We are here to help.”

“It makes me feel bad for the people who lost their homes,” she said. “I don’t want them to be so hurt by a storm.”

Through the wreckage, Hurricane Sandy has shined a light on the generosity and solidarity of Washington area communities. By hosting concerts, collecting cash donations and even personally driving supplies up the coast, area residents are doing whatever they can to help their northern neighbors in their time of need.

Samantha, along with 10 or so girls who attended the afternoon event, belongs to Kids Sending Smiles, a nonprofit community service group in Northern Virginia. She and her mom, Laurie Underwood, started the organization last year after Samantha befriended a girl originally from the Philippines who told her about the country’s poor communities. A friend of Laurie Underwood’s who served in the U.S. Peace Corps helped them get involved.

“He was able to talk with us about ways we could help that weren’t just sending a check,” Underwood said. “Because that’s not very impactful for a 7-year-old.”

One effort led to another until eventually Underwood and a few fellow parents decided to help the group formalize its structure to enable tax-deductible donations. Today, the group has an advisory board and was recently approved as a nonprofit organization. Its recent projects include a food fund for the needy in Northern Virginia, a coat drive for the Navajo Relief Fund and a lemonade stand that sent proceeds to Medicine for Mali, which purchases antibiotics and bed nets to help prevent the spread of malaria in the West African country.

That Saturday, through proceeds from the bake sale, lawn rakings and online donations, they raised $1,074 including for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Idea spreads at school

In the days immediately following the hurricane, Frank Murphy and Frank Fumich, both of Arlington County, collected enough donations to pack a 26-foot U-Haul truck that they drove to Morganville, N.J. Their trip inspired friends and neighbors, including Kathy Summers, to launch their own relief efforts.

Fumich and Summers met at Paddle for Humanity, a summertime stand-up paddle race on the Potomac River, last year. Summers, who lives in the District’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, said she followed Fumich on Facebook as he chronicled the events of Hurricane Sandy from his beach property in Ocean City.

“We watched Frank more than we watched the news,” she said. “It was scary.”

When Fumich began to collect donations, Summers and her two sons, Tim, 14, and J.P., 18, who attend Georgetown Day School, wanted to help.

“I figured, if we’re all going to be working on this, let’s do it together,” she said. “So I offered to be a home base for some of the donations.”

They reached out to Russell Shaw, the head of Georgetown Day. Elsa Newmyer, the community service director for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade at the school, said she was touched to see the community’s relief efforts.

“The fifth-graders are collecting batteries and flashlights, and the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are talking about planning a fundraiser,” she said. “We plan to be active in this through Christmas.”

She said the students in the middle school seemed particularly interested in hosting a “medicine cabinet drive” to collect supplies such as cough drops and adhesive bandages.

“They’ve gravitated toward the idea of easing the pain,” she said.

New concept on donations

After Hurricane Sandy hit, Dave Weinberg, 31, went with his gut. He sent buses to pick up victims in Far Rockaway, N.Y., and Bergen County, N.J., and bring them back to Silver Spring, where 150 families had volunteered to host them for Shabbat at his synagogue, Young Israel Shomrai Emunah. The day included a benefit concert and raised $15,000.

But then he changed his approach. Weinberg began calling relief centers in the hardest-hit areas of New York and New Jersey to find out whether they were getting what they needed. Other than gas, there was a resounding request for gift cards.

They asked, and he answered. Weinberg created a Web site where people could donate gift cards directly to relief organizations on the ground. The site, www.giftcardrelief.org, was launched Nov. 8. He hopes that this method will be a long-term solution.

“People want to give things; they want to send a truck full of stuff to those in need. There’s an emotional response that’s hard to get past,” he said. “As beautiful as sending coats and blankets is, we also have to listen to the things they might be less comfortable asking for. If that’s a Wal-Mart gift card to buy cleaning and personal-care products, that’s what we want to give them.”

‘That area is sentimental’

Gary Pendleton is an artist in North Beach, who specializes in painting en plein air, the mid-19th-century impressionist method of painting outdoors.

As president of the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association, Pendleton, 57, has built a network of more than 300 fellow artists between the Washington area and New York, many of whom live in New Jersey. They gather for exhibitions, competitions and trips to scenic points along the Eastern Seaboard several times a year. So when Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the New Jersey shore, he wanted to help.

“The storm had spared us here, for the most part,” he said. “I thought, ‘I have a connection to these people, they’d do this for me.’ ”

His association donated $1,000 to the Red Cross, and Pendleton collected coats, clothing, sleeping bags and blankets at his home. When he found out that one of his artist friends had also been collecting donations, they combined their stashes and dropped off their supplies at a warehouse in Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles were receiving contributions to send up north.

But Pendleton wanted to do something more personal, too. He turned to Facebook, where he auctioned a painting he had completed last year while visiting a friend in Cape May, N.J. Pendleton, who lives on the Chesapeake, called it “The Other Bay.”

A man in Falls Church bought the painting for $250, and the money was donated directly to the Red Cross. Pendleton then donated an extra $100.

“It’s certainly not the biggest effort out there,” he said, “but that area is sentimental for me. I wanted to give back.”

Editor’s Note: We want to hear about your relief efforts, please include your stories below in the comments section below.

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