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Tricia Hexter of Grosse Pointe Park received roses from a grateful East Coast recipient of one of her 142 boxes sent following Superstorm Sandy’s devastation Oct. 29. photo by Ann L. Fouty.

December 06, 2012
By Ann Fouty

Features Editor

Tricia Hexter had to learn to accept the charity of her new neighbors in Grosse Pointe Park.

A self-described doer and giver, Hexter is now paying back the months of kindness she and her family experienced during her months of chemotherapy.

“I feel like nothing I can ever do will repay them. I will always try whether I know them or don’t know,” she said, with her 4-year-old daughter, Madeline, sitting close by. “The amount of support and love from people I’ve known for such a little time, words can’t even describe.”

Hexter, a former teacher, found her neighbors’ delivering meals, coffee cakes and gifts as she went through chemotherapy treatments.

“It was never just dinner. It was always something else,” she related.

Hexter is now repaying their acts of kindness by helping family and friends affected by Superstorm Sandy.

Until 2010, Hexter, her husband, Craig, and three children, Ryan, Colin and Madeline, were residents of Long Island, N.Y. Craig’s job brought them to Michigan, away from familiar surroundings.

They settled in, making new friends, getting involved in their children’s activities until their lives changed — again. First, Hexter was diagnosed with breast cancer Nov. 30, 2011. A bilateral mastectomy was performed. Her grandmother died days before her first chemotherapy treatment in December. Five months of chemotherapy was curtailed because she developed heart failure. Then Superstorm Sandy blew in Oct. 29.

The culmination of these events found her focusing on East Coast friends and family who lost from a lot to everything.

She said she had lived through hurricanes so wasn’t concerned about Sandy because of past experiences when the hype was more than fact. As the hours ticked by and Hexter saw Sandy’s force, she began calling those she knew in New York and New Jersey.

One cousin in Oceanside, N.Y. lost his restaurant and house. Two cousins in Howard Beach, N.Y., are without houses and three others had severe damage to their houses. Of those, two will be condemned. Displaced relatives are staying with family and friends, she said.

“One cousin stayed in his house. A wave came through the sliding glass door. He escaped with the clothes on his back,” she said.

Hexter went on to say she couldn’t image having nothing. How would one feel with no pictures, no mementos, nothing familiar and comforting?

With that in mind, she began networking with her 750 Facebook friends to get the word out she was collecting clothing, toys, necessities and money for those she knew on the East Coast. Donaions came in and she said she was touched by the generosity.

“Without a lot of work, I wouldn’t have been able to give a quarter (of what was donated). What I find in this community, they just want to help. I feel honored to be a part of this community.”

To date, she has mailed 142 boxes, some as large as 4-feet by 2-feet and totaled well more than $1,200 in postage. Even the boxes and packing tape were donated. She has made few trips to the post office.

“A lot of times people would take boxes for me and I’d hand them money (for postage) and they’d say ‘no.’

“I did send quite a few (boxes) to New Jersey to friends that were willing to collect the boxes and deliver them.

“I had a friend I grew up with on Long Island. I did ship to him and he gives them directly to a shelter,” she said.

Packed in those boxes are baby supplies, hygiene products, new underwear and socks. Women’s purses were filled with cosmetics and children’s cold medicine. For the men, she collected razors, shaving cream and deodorant. She filled backpacks with toys, coloring supplies and puzzles. That was happenstance because it really hadn’t occurred to her children had lost their backpacks.

“My cousin called to thank me,” she said.

He told her there were no backpacks to be found in stores.

A friend’s 11-year-old daughter lost everything. Hexter sent an iPod inside a purse.

“I wanted to make it as special for each kid as possible,” she said.

Sorting through items donated for adults, Hexter said she was surprised by the quality of clothing.

“I expected junk. It was so nice to see Coldwater Creek, Ann Taylor, not anything with stains. People dropped off so many beautiful things,” she said. “A lady rang my door bell and handed me $200 in Target gift cards.”

All this and the meals delivered, the flowers planted in the yard, the house cleanings and her daughter’s preschool party organized from start to finish, Hexter is repaying by helping those on the East Coast.

“My girlfriend down the street decorated my patio and made a pile of appetizers,” she said of the preschool party she volunteered to have but was unable to pull together because of her illness. “You can’t imagine someone would do this.

“So many people don’t know what to say or do. Everybody can do something. These aren’t the girls I grew up with, not family. These are people I’ve come to know for a short amount of time. It’s an overwhelming experience.”

And Hexter is not done yet.

Recovering from recent reconstructive surgery, Hexter is collecting items to fill Christmas stockings. To help her pay it forward, contact her at hexter1@comcast.net.

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