Zoe Everett said she was sitting in her Rutgers dorm room, studying for a test, on the night superstorm Sandy blew into the East Coast and changed her life.
"Before Hurricane Sandy I was a typical 19-year-old student at Rutgers," Zeo Everett wrote in a post on Wish Upon a Hero's website. "But then came October 29th. I was studying for an exam, waiting out Hurricane Sandy and then I received a phone call. At 11pm on October 29th, I found out both of my parents had been killed."
Everett, 19, and the oldest sibling of the Everett family, of Randolph, N.J., wrote that her parents, Rich and Beth Everett, were killed by a falling tree on the night Sandy hit the East Coast.
According to news reports, the Everetts were driving home in their pickup truck with their two youngest children from the horse farm the family ran, after checking on the horses as the storm approached. A gust from Sandy blew a 100-foot-tall tree onto the cab of the truck, killing both of her parents. Her brothers made it out with minor injuries.
"I finally made it to the hospital in the morning after battling with Hurricane Sandy all night. I was no longer your typical 19-year-old. A moment in time, a second of bad luck, changed my life and my sibling's lives forever," she wrote on Wish Upon a Hero. Everett's siblings are ages 17, 14, and 11.
Employees at the website heard about the Everett family's tragedy from a friend of Zoe's. The website, based in Vorhees, N.J., is a "social helping network," according to founder Dave Girgenti, where people can post their wishes and a description of why they are deserving of donations, and others can donate.
The network sprang into action.
"She's overwhelmed, not only just with losing your parents, but you don't even know where to begin. She's 19 years old, trying to go to college, and now has the burden of being both mom and dad with three siblings to take care of," Girgenti said.
The staffers, who had never met or spoken with Zoe, posted a description of her and her siblings' plight, asking for $5,000 to help the New Jersey siblings buy food and pay bills while they settle their parents' affairs.
Within 24 hours the site had raised more than $50,000.
"So we put up wish on her behalf, and we were trying to raise $5,000 to take care of immediate needs, you know, food, keeping heating on at the house, paying bills, but because of the situation, not only with her parents dying but because they died because of Hurricane Sandy, people are really emotionally attached. They want to help, and here's someone you can help directly."
"We didn't realize we were going to raise this much money," Girgenti said.
Zoe Everett and her siblings declined to be interviewed for this article, but Zoe said in a statement that the family was grateful for the generosity.
"On behalf of my siblings and myself, I would like to express our sincerest thanks for the overwhelming support and generosity shown to us. Wish Upon a Hero has raised funds for my family that have exceeded our wildest dreams," she said. "The donations have ensured our well-being for the next few months and will hold us over until we are able to access our own funds."
Everett said the children would strive to be as "benevolent and giving" as their parents, and so they would not accept any further donations.
"My family's needs have been met. We would like to draw attention and further donations to other individuals whose needs have not yet been met," she said.
Girgenti, the founder of the charity, said he has been overwhelmed by the generosity of users on his site, even after witnessing thousands of wishes coming true over the past few years.
"I think it's the world's best display of humanity. We've helped people around the county, been apart of amazing wish grants, but something like this, the amount of people coming together, it takes my breath away," he said.
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