Eight-year-old girl blankets Staten Island with love

By Chris Huber and Laura Reinhardt
Photos by Laura Reinhardt and John & Nicole LaVoie

Five months after Superstorm Sandy devastated the northeastern U.S., affected residents are still rebuilding and struggling to emerge from a cold winter. But a compassionate third-grader from the Pacific Northwest comforted some of them with new, handmade blankets.

Ella LaVoie with the blankets she made

Ella LaVoie with the blankets she made

In the hardest hit places, like Staten Island, New York, many continue the struggle to meet everyday needs. They cling to the hope that life will someday return to normal.

"Staten Island is a forgotten borough," says Pastor Thomas Cletus, of United Church of Praise International Ministries. "My own community is a forgotten community."

Ella LaVoie, an 8-year-old in Kent, Wash., has not forgotten them.

After learning of the destruction wrought by the storm last October, Ella sprung to action, rallying friends and strangers alike to donate 200 blankets to Sandy survivors.

World Vision gave those blankets to Staten Island residents March 1 along with other supplies like gloves, sweaters, hygiene products, and children's toys.

Ella and her family arranged to donate the blankets toat the organization's warehouse near Seattle around Christmastime.

"It just shows that you're never too small to make a big difference," says Reed Slattery, manager at World Vision's Seattle-area warehouse. "It’s good to see family and community rally around her and support her."

Ella's compassion sparked when she saw footage of people suffering in the storm's aftermath. While at first unsure how to help them from 3,000 miles away, she knew she had to do something.

Ella LaVoie with the blankets she made

A recipient of one of Ella's blankets

"I felt really bad. I was just thinking , what would it be like?" Ella says.

With the help of posters, Facebook promotion, and word-of-mouth, Ella's plan radiated from her parents to friends and community members, and then to total strangers.

Some gave cash, others purchased fabric during Black Friday sales, and many helped make the fleecy blankets.

Ella made 50 of the blankets herself.

"We couldn't tell her no when this idea came through. She wanted to help so badly," says Ella's mom, Nicole LaVoie.

"People were just very overwhelmed and couldn't believe a youngster wanted to help out so much. [During Christmas time] they're focused on 'me, me, me.' But all she was worried about was the families and people on the East Coast."

The act of compassion speaks to the pure motives of a child, "because us as adults, we just sometimes get desensitized," says Reed.

Hearing others acknowledge their daughter's giving heart gave Nicole and her husband, John, great joy.

"We both pray that she never grows out of wanting to help others," Nicole says.

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