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Word of Mouth is a Gift for Mastic, Shirley Families

Southampton Mayor Mark Epley overheard a conversation at work and ended up bringing toys for families in need on the South Shore bunches of gifts as a result.

Over the past six weeks, donations have flooded from all over the world to support Long Islanders and New Jersey residents hit hard by Hurricane Sandy at the end of October.

And this year as Christmas approaches, the number of residents in need to give their family a merry Christmas is far more than usual in the tri-hamlet area of Shirley, Mastic and Mastic Beach, which as particularly hard hit. So when Southampton Mayor Mark Epley overheard one conversation at work, he said he'd be glad to chip in.

Bob Vecchio, president of the William Floyd School District, said last week that a toy drive St. Jude's Church in Mastic Beach each year typically raises gifts for about 400 people. This year, Vecchio said, about triple the number families between St. Jude's, Colonial Family & Youth Services, and NANA's House are in need.

Toward the end of last week, he said, about 100 kids on their "wish tree" remained.

Vecchio's wife, who does outreach at St. Jude's, was recently at Vecchio's work – at the Seafield Center in Westhampton Beach – discussing needs for the toy drive. As soon as she left, Epley – executive director at the non-profit substance abuse center – stepped into Vecchio's office.

"Mark being Mark, when he overheard the conversation came up to me after my wife walked out and said, 'Send me a list of what you need,'" Vecchio said. "I did, he went out shopping, and we got an abundance of gifts."

Epley brought footballs, basketballs, skateboards, dolls, scooters and more. With many of those in need being boys and girls varying in ages, Vecchio said needs vary from arts and craft kits to costume kits to board games to skateboards.

Epley said he and his wife, Marianne, don't give gifts to each other on Christmas. So after hearing Vecchio – who has been organizing relief efforts in the area since Sandy hit – he didn't have to go far to find out who he could give gifts to.

"That's one of the great things about Long Island," he said. "Everyone takes care of each other."

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