Lake family helps others hit by storms PDF Print E-mail
Written by DEBBIE ROGERS Sentinel Staff Writer   
Thursday, 13 December 2012 11:00
Kimberly Zolanti with her father Doug Zolanti. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
MILLBURY - In church, the Sunday after Superstorm Sandy struck the Atlantic coast, the Zoltani family knew they were being called when their pastor asked for volunteers to travel to the disaster area.
Ever since the June 2010 tornado struck their Cherry Street home and they witnessed the kindness of complete strangers and service of their community, Doug and Jennifer Zoltani, and their children, Kimberly, 11, and Caleb, 16, rarely pass up a chance to go where needed.
First it was grilling burgers for the Lake Township community in the tornado's aftermath. Then it was heading to Joplin, Mo., in spring 2011 after a tornado there killed 161 people.
"Crisis affects anybody. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor," Doug Zoltani said. "When you're in crisis, you need help. … It has become a huge part of what we do."
Doug, Kimberly and Caleb boarded a bus headed for New York City on Nov. 5, ready for their next assistance adventure. Jennifer had to stay behind because of her job. Steve North, an associate pastor at New Harvest Church in Oregon and founder of Lifeline ministries of Toledo, led the group that worked with the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.
The Toledo contingent traveled 1,700 miles - 500 of that just in New York City - spending five days volunteering. They passed out blankets, water and food, most of it bought in the middle of the night at a Pennsylvania Wal-Mart and stowed on their bus.
"All the people thought we were crazy because we literally took all the blankets off the shelf and a lot of water," said Kimberly, a fifth-grader at Lake Elementary.
When they arrived in New York, the Zoltanis spent the first day at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, helping organize supplies. They were then stationed at two main posts, in Far Rockaway, a neighborhood in Queens, and Coney Island.
"We just set up on corners and gave out things," Kimberly said.
She most enjoyed passing out bags of candy to children, handing out hot dogs slathered with ketchup and mustard, and doling out blankets - with just the right touch. When she noticed one boy who looked disappointed with the blanket given to him, she took it back and handed him one with a wrestling theme. His face lit up.
"It just makes me feel good and happy to see someone come up with a sad face, leaving with all these awesome supplies and a big smile," Kimberly said.
Zoltani said it was amazing to watch his 11-year-old daughter move through the Coney Island crowd, which mainly spoke Polish and Russian, without any hesitation.
The family said they'll never forget the snow plows removing tons of beach sand from streets, Caleb carrying sacks of potatoes up 20 flights of stairs to a woman who couldn't come down from her apartment for supplies, and the nighttime sights of the Statue of Liberty and Freedom Tower.
Doug Zoltani said that while Sandy's strike was big, nothing - even Lake Township's tornado - will compare to what the family saw in Joplin last year.
In Millbury, he said, anyone could clearly see the singular path that the tornado took. In Joplin, the destruction was 360 degrees and went on for miles.
"It made our tornado look like a thunderstorm," Zoltani said.
The township tornado damaged the Zoltanis' vehicles and the roof and siding on their home. But Zoltani said they felt very fortunate and were out serving lunches to volunteers, with the assistance of their church, the next day.
Caleb is home-schooled and Kimberly started attending Lake Elementary in third grade. Principal Christie McPherson she suspects Kimberly, with her community service inclinations, is a young trainee for the school district's Students In Action. The high school program was recognized with a Jefferson Award for public service in 2011.
McPherson said she knew the Superstorm Sandy relief trip would be a learning experience for Kimberly and didn't mind the few days of school she'd miss.
The fifth-grader did a PowerPoint presentation on her trip for her class when she returned, McPherson said.
"She's being raised to reach out and do community service and live out what her faith is, which is refreshing in an authentic way," she said.

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