November 1, 2014
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Helping out
New Jersey woman in Sandy’s wake gets help through Facebook
Submitted photo
RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS: Pictured are Michele Drolet and her service dog Tizzy who live in New Jersey and were affected by Hurricane Sandy. Through a simple post on Facebook, help got to her and her family within two hours due to Facebook postings. Help had been there the whole time, just across the street.

When WPRO weekend news anchor and Cranston resident Laura Clarizio saw a frantic Facebook posting Friday night from Christine Raffa, owner of Raffa Yoga Studio in Cranston, she set out on a mission.

The post from Raffa explained that a yoga student, Lisa Shaffer, has a 58-year-old sister who is blind and was living alone in New Jersey when Hurricane Sandy hit.

“Her house is flooded she cannot access her sump pump and has been up every hour and a half since the storm emptying it. NO HEAT, SHE IS COLD AND IN NEED,” the post read in all capital letters.

“When I saw the posting, my heart sank,” said Clarizio.

Raffa heard the story directly from Shaffer, a North Scituate resident who said she was concerned about her sister’s welfare.

“Lisa came into yoga class Friday night,” said Raffa. “I could visibly see she was upset. I asked her what was going on.”

Shaffer’s sister lives in Morristown, N.J., which was hit hard by the storm. She was left without heat and electricity, and her home was flooding.

“She had no help, she was exhausted, cold, and food was running low,” said Shaffer. “She did not reach out for help. When I spoke to her, I heard the exhaustion, concern and frustration in her voice. In my opinion, she had hit the wall with all she had been experiencing. I started to call people who had family in New Jersey asking for assistance for my sister. Although concerned, they were unable to respond due to their own losses with the storm.”

As Raffa listened to the story, she was confident someone would come forward. She told Shaffer she would reach out to other yoga instructors in New Jersey, using Facebook as her means of communication.

“But, it was actually someone from the Raffa community that responded. Laura Clarizio, who practices yoga at Raffa, immediately wrote back saying she would re-post on her Facebook page to help out,” said Raffa.

Clarizio, originally from New Jersey, reposted that message with an additional note to her more than 2,700 Facebook contacts. She called on those she knows from New Jersey to reach out to this woman in need.

“I was hopeful someone from the New Jersey area would respond, and as luck would have [it], the perfect person reached out to help,” said Clarizio.

Within minutes, she says former colleague Jeremy Spiegel from her “Inside Edition” days, spotted the posting and texted Clarizio asking her to send him all the information. Spiegel, now the executive producer for the show, “Extra,” lives in California but is originally from New Jersey.

More than 3,000 miles away, Spiegel took the time to reach out to his family members. At 8:19 p.m., he sent them a message. By 10:17, just two hours later, Spiegel sent Clarizio this message, confirming that his brother contacted the woman and offered his help. The weather was improving at that point, but Spiegel’s brother turned out to live less than one minute away, and promised to take the woman in if the temperature dipped too low.

"When I read that message, I shed happy tears," said Clarizio. “Despite all the ugliness Hurricane Sandy brought upon so many people, there is beauty from the power of people; strangers wanting to do the right thing. Christine Raffa is always the first person to come forward and help others and the fact that Jeremy's brother lives across the street made the story even sweeter, it is heartwarming to see that these small gestures of kindness can make a difference."

Shaffer says she is grateful to those who reached out, and so is her sister.

“I can't even express the relief I felt since I could not be with her to help. My father, who is 87, also felt enormous gratitude and much worry has been lifted,” she said. “My sister now is safe; people have reached out to her and a whole bunch of new friends through Facebook are looking in on her. I feel so blessed.”

Raffa says she was not surprised, as she believes in the “goodness of people.”

“I was confident that someone, somewhere would help out and Laura’s connection brought this story full-circle,” she said.

In addition to her work in the media, Clarizio is the author of a children’s book series, “If I had a Magic Carpet.” In the series, the main character, Miranda, teaches children to be kind. Clarizio was glad to see adults take a page from Miranda’s book.

“Through the years, as a television reporter, I covered many tragedies, but one thing I realized is that often goodness prevails,” said Clarizio. “I am just grateful to everyone who cared enough to help someone they didn’t even know.”


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