Matthew Petronis sat in his dorm room on Oct. 29, watching TV in horror as "my childhood burned down."
A sophomore at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., he thought he was a safe distance from Sandy's unforgiving storm surge. But as the first reports of a devastating fire on Breezy Point began to circulate, fear gripped him. His schools, his friends, almost everything he knew was there. He'd celebrated all 18 of his Thanksgiving Days with family there.
As the night wore on, it became apparent that the combination of wind, water and fire had dealt Breezy Point a potentially mortal blow. He felt helpless in his dorm room -- but not for long.
Only a few hours after the near destruction of his community, Petronis set up the first fundraiser to help the neighborhood get off the mat. Before people routed by Sandy could even begin to assess the damage, he had embraced the new form of crowd-sourced charity and set up an online-donation tool at WePay.com. Within hours, he'd raised a few thousand dollars. He topped $10,000 a couple of days later.
Offers started pouring in, not just money. Accountants and lawyers offered to help him set up nonprofit status, which was granted by the IRS this week. Others offered to come to Breezy Point and help with reconstruction. Architects, carpenters, construction workers and good-hearted volunteers from across the country have offered to come for a week or two to Queens and help anyway they can. Petronis is managing both the money and the volunteers.
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