Dance academy 'blanket' hurricane victims with care, warmth
By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent | December 04. 2012 8:42PM
Members of Operation Miles to Smiles visited an emergency shelter at Breezy Point, N.Y., as part of a relief effort last month. The group will return next week with more than 150 fleece blankets they've collected. From left, Cathy Linden of Concord, Melissa Hoffman of Hudson, New York shelter directors Anne-Marie and Bob, Sandi Duncan of Hudson and J.R. Linden of Concord. (Courtesy)
Sandi Duncan, a dance instructor at Melissa Hoffman Dance Center, said she'd been following reports of the coming October hurricane on the news, but hearing about the storm's immense damage in the Rockaway and Breezy Point sections of New York made her realize the seriousness of the situation.
"It hit my heart deeply," the Hudson resident said. Always trying to keep their students in sync with the surrounding community, members of the dance studio usually make handmade blankets for distribution to area nursing homes, hospitals and shelters during the Christmas season.
This year, those efforts started somewhat earlier, with school founder and Londonderry resident Melissa Hoffman and friends Cathy and J.R. Linden of Concord joining forces with Duncan to form Operation Miles to Smiles, a collective drive to bring handmade fleece blankets, toiletry items and cleaning supplies to the hardest-hit areas of New York.
Almost immediately, the team gathered 65 blankets towards the cause, with the Lindens, who work with the Shaker Road School in Concord, pitching in with 22 more blankets. By Nov. 9, the four-member team was packing up their cars and bound for New York.
"We spread the word through Facebook and within three days we had over 1,000 toiletry items and cleaning supplies," J.R. Linden said. The overall experience affected Duncan greatly. "We were pretty shocked by what we saw there and vowed to return," she added.
"The devastation at Rockaway Beach in particular really prompted us into action."
Qord quickly traveled and other Granite State dance studios and organizations soon jumped on board. Another trip brought another 90 blankets to the Big Apple, along with more cleaning and school supplies.
Operation Miles to Smiles is planning a third trip on Dec. 13, with another 150 blanket to be delivered to their new owners. "The dance community is so generous: we've had donations come from as far away as Florida," said Duncan. They'll depart around 5 a.m. that morning, driving straight into Breezy Point: the plan is to spend the day, visiting with hurricane victims and spreading a bit of joy.
"We'll give them our love and support," said Duncan. She's hoping to bring some of her students along during a fourth trip being planned over the holiday vacation, when they'll deliver their usual items along with plenty of toy and gift items in time for Christmas.
"I think we'll have to rent a box truck for that one," Duncan said with a laugh.
Those wishing to assist Operation Miles to Smiles may bring donations of school supplies, cleaning items, handmade fleece blankets and unwrapped, new toys to Melissa Hoffman Dance Center, located at 210 Robinson Road in Hudson, during regular business hours.
The center is open Monday through Thursday from 4-8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to noon. For more information call 886-7909 or visit the "Operation Miles to Smiles" Facebook page.
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April Guilmet may be reached at AGuilmet@newstote.com.