By Maureen Cavanagh
Special to DNAinfo New York
UPPER WEST SIDE — When word got out that Upper West Side toy store owner Donna Schofield lost almost everything during Hurricane Sandy, customers came in droves to offer help.
Now Schofield, the owner of the Stationery Toy World on W. 72nd Street who lost her Staten Island home and her warehouses in the storm, is hosting toy drives to give back to other needy families in her ravaged hometown so those children will have something for the holidays.
"I have kids, and kids don't understand why they aren't getting Christmas presents," said Schofield, who is collecting toys for St. George Theatre and P.S. 38, a K-5 elementary school.
"The least we can do is help them have a happy holiday."
While the Upper West Side came through the storm relatively unscathed, Schofield and her family did not. She lost her Eastern Staten Island home and almost all of her store's excess inventory, which was being stored in four different warehouses nearby. Three out of the four warehouses on Mapleton Avenue that housed her stock were red-tagged, meaning Schofield will have to pay for them to be bulldozed. The remaining one has been yellow-tagged, forcing the owners to wait to see if anything can be saved.
The idea for a toy drive was brought to her by customer Nell Hanks.
"It was not until Sandy that I found out that Donna lived on Staten Island," said Hanks, a mother of twin boys. "To listen to her story and see her pain was heartbreaking, so I put forward the idea that we would find a place or event on Staten Island to donate toys and those toys would be purchased from Stationery Toy World."
Schofield was in her Midland Beach home on Olympia Boulevard with her father and children, ages 8 and 17, when the storm hit.
"At 7:20 p.m. the water started coming in and it was like a tsunami," Schofield recalled. Though the family had spent the prior three days engaged in various forms of storm preparation, "by 8 p.m. everything was devastated, everything was gone," she said. The family retreated to the top floor of their home and wasn't rescued until almost 48 hours after the storm, by the NYPD in a rowboat.
"You have to have a sense of humor through it all," Schofield said. During her rescue by rowboat, they came upon a neighbor's car that had floated into the middle of the street. Schofield joked with the neighbor that she shouldn't have "illegally" parked the vehicle.
"If you don't laugh you cry," said Schofield, whose family is currently staying in an apartment as they wait to rebuild their home. "Which I've been doing a lot of, too."
Schofield said she almost moved her store out of the Upper West Side, but is glad it didn't happen.
"A few years back we looked around to move the store when our lease was up but decided to tough it out," said Schofield. "You don't realize how much you are loved until something like this happens. I'm so glad we stayed."
Gary Rowe, an employee, said Schofield is "the most amazing and genuine person I know. She's like everybody's mom and has created a family environment with the staff as well as the customers. You get to see people's kids grow up here."
Laila Pasic, 7, has grown up coming to the store with her parents and two younger brothers. Pasic and her friends held a bake sale and raised $200, which will be donated to the store that sits on the north side of West 72nd Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues.
"I wanted to give the money to the nice lady because she lost everything in the storm," said Laila. Sheila Brodbeck, Laila's mother, said they love the store because of its reputation for having everything from trendy toys to seasonal stuff. "If they don't have it, Donna will track it down and get it for you no matter what," said Brodbeck. "She's incredible".
Stacey Morano said one of the main reasons she comes to the store is because of the friendly atmosphere. "They engage your kids and care about you here," said Morano. "It would be so depressing if it had to close and another bank moved in."
"Sure, you could walk over to Staples to get office supplies but you'd rather support the Mom and Pop shops like this one," said Rich Bozzett, a West 71st Street resident. "People like Donna are who make America great."
Stationery & Toy World is located at 125 W. 72nd and is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. So far they have raised $1,278 and collected 56 unwrapped toys. Toy donations should be under $25.