Renee Ribera moved to Mint Hill from Fords, New Jersey 20 years ago but as the largest Atlantic hurricane on record made landfall on the shore of her home state on October 29, it definitely struck home.

“It breaks my heart that the shore won’t be the same,” Ribera said. “It will never be the same again.”

Toy donations can be made November 25 and December 2, from 3-5 pm at Olde Sycamore at the corner of Fairview Road and Olde Sycamore Drive. PHOTO BY DEREK LACEY

Hurricane Sandy caused at least $20 billion in damage and caused power outages from Maine to Manhattan to North Carolina.

After the hurricane, Ribera began to figure out a way to help.

“It got me immediately thinking, what can we do, we’re here, everybody’s fine, we have power, we have resources,” Ribera said.

The plan is to gather new, unwrapped toys for kids ages one to 12, ship them to Saint Rose Catholic Church in Belmar, N.J., and have those toys light up the Christmas morning for a child affected by Sandy.

“At the end of the day, that’s all we want to do is help out these poor families that have just basically been destroyed,” Ribera said.

Ribera has solicited the help of neighbors and city residents to do everything from donate toys, volunteer time, and even lend garage space.

“It couldn’t go any better. Honestly it’s been overwhelming, we’ve had terrific response, everybody’s been willing to help, everybody’s been willing to donate,” Ribera said.

Donations will be accepted at the Olde Sycamore tennis and pool clubhouse, at the corner of Olde Sycamore Drive and Fairvew Road on two Sundays: November 25 and December 2, from 3—5 pm.

Ribera is trying to make the donating process as simple and painless as possible, providing a drive-thru type, in and out environment.

Hoping to completely fill the trailer of a semi truck, Ribera is currently close to finding a company that will donate the service of transporting the toys to St. Rose, hopefully by the second week of December. “I hope the Mint Hill cops have to show up because theres so much traffic,” Ribera said. “I want as many toys as we can possibly get. It would be a great problem if I had too much for a truck. That would be great; and to me, that’s the spirit of Christmas.”

So far, Ribera has been moved by the show of support from the community.

“Our little town is just awesome,” Ribera said. “We have such a big heart and I knew people would rally around the idea once they got word of it, and that’s exactly what’s happened.”

Ribera said that if any- one cannot make the two scheduled drop off dates, if a church or other organization would like to gather donations independently and then give them to her, they could contact her directly to work it out.

For more information, to help, or to donate a toy, contact Renee Ribera at rribera11@yahoo.com.