A little over a month ago, as Silverton dealt with the devastation brought on by Hurricane Sandy, hosting a holiday celebration was the last thing on anyone's mind.
"We didn't expect something like this," said Lt. Michael Cocco of the Silverton Volunteer Fire Company moments after lighting a Christmas tree in front of a crowd of hundreds at Silver Bay Elementary School Monday night. "We're Silverton strong."
Preparations for the event were made quickly, and sponsors — including local businesses, National Guard members, Silverton emergency responders and the Toms River school district — came together to show that Sandy won't stop families in the battered neighborhood from enjoying the holidays. Santa and Toms River officials, including Mayor Thomas Kelaher, also were in attendance.
"There was so much devastation from the storm that we're trying to pull the community together during the holiday season," said Silverton Volunteer Fire Company Capt. Gary Tattersall. "It's a great feeling. They supported us and we're trying to give back to them now."
Cocco said that the tree lighting was something the community needed as residents recover. Many homes just blocks from the elementary school were affected by Sandy. Homes that should be adorned with colorful lights and decorations are dark this year.
"You don't see a lot of families with lights on," he said.
The community has been supportive of the fire company, whose members — some of whom lost their homes to Sandy — worked tirelessly in the days after the storm to aid residents. The company itself was impacted too, having lost trucks to the storm.
All 450 Christmas trees the company made available for its annual sale have been sold in record time, a sign of the community's support.
"That was a big success this year," Cocco said.
Joanne Naturile, a member of the fire company's women's auxiliary, helped to house the displaced and cook meals at the company's headquarters following Sandy. She viewed the tree lighting as a bit of good that came from the otherwise devastating storm.
"As bad as it is, it's wonderful that everybody came together," Naturile said.
Auxiliary president Ceil Cocco said called Silverton "a big family," which is why neighbors were at the ready to help each other.
"We knew we needed to do something," she said.