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Holiday Season Offers Hope; Reminders Of Andrew

December 19, 1992

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) _ Santa Claus leaned over to the four youngsters and confided his problem: ″There’s no roofs to land on this year 3/8″

Then with a candy cane for each and a ″Ho 3/8 Ho 3/8 Ho 3/8″ for all, he was off in his effort to spread cheer in an area in which the holiday season offers a chance to lift spirits.

But for many who are scrambling to afford gifts and a tree to put them under, the holidays also underline the losses they suffered from Hurricane Andrew, which barreled through south Dade County four months ago Christmas Eve.

During a break, Santa admitted that his home - in the heavily damaged Saga Bay community - was destroyed by Andrew. Except for the day each of the last four years in which he’s dressed as Santa and greeted children at the Dixie Shopping Center, he’s also known as the Rev. Cecil Warren, pastor of the St. Timothy Lutheran Church.

″This is the most excited I’ve seen the children. I think everybody is ready for good times,″ said Warren, whose six-member family is living in a trailer. ″Christmas is a good excuse. You know, people say ‘I’m going to Disney World 3/8’ Well, we’re going to Christmas.″

Yet the holidays also remind many of the way the hurricane tore away treasured heirlooms. Menorahs and nativity scenes handed down through generations were blown away forever by the Aug. 24 storm that left 250,000 people’s homes at least temporarily uninhabitable.

Several of the children at the shopping center have been living in federally provided trailers because their homes were ruined.

″She’s been bugging me a lot for a Christmas tree. But they’re not giving those away,″ said Carmen Myers, who took her 3-year-old granddaughter Yvette DeSoto to see Santa.

The mother of the four preteens in whom Santa confided said she had little left of the past.

″I lost everything but a suitcase,″ said Christine Burnett, whose children range in age from 9 to 12. ″I bought a few new things, but you can’t afford to go out and replace everything. I’m trying to get a tree this weekend, but they cost so much.″

Nine-year-old Stephen asked Santa for a remote control car. He explained later he didn’t expect Santa to replace what the hurricane took.

″I lost a lot of good stuff ... all of my (stuffed) animals that I loved. My doggie, two bears, the Koala bear... . My room was gone.″

″I don’t know what they’ll get,″ said his mother, shaking her head. ″We’ll just do the best we can.″

Myriad agencies and groups will be handing out toys this week, although agencies in neighboring counties say they’re running short because of large numbers of needy people who have moved from Dade.

The Salvation Army expects to give out up to 400 gifts an hour in Homestead this week. The state Department of Corrections gave teddy bears to 300 families and Fort Lauderdale and neighboring Hollywood had toy drives for hurricane-hit families.

At the St. John’s Episcopal Church near downtown Homestead, the Rev. Terence Harris displayed boxes full of stuffed animals and toys shipped by churches from Clearwater, Fla., to Elizabeth, N.J. He showed a pages-long list of churches and individuals from across the nation who have sent donations to his church and its members.

″Our Christmas began about a week after the storm,″ Harris said. ″People never stopped trying to help us. It’s been the Gift of the Magi over and over.″

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