By Chelsea Karnash
VOORHEES, NJ (CBS) – Hurricane Sandy left thousands without power. Many lost family heirlooms, all of their belongings or even their homes.
But those things are replaceable. Zoe Everett lost something far more valuable: her family.
In a horrible twist of fate, both of the 19-year-old Rutgers student's parents were killed when a falling tree crashed through the windshield of the SUV they were driving in Mendham, New Jersey during the superstorm. Two of Zoe's three younger siblings, who were asleep in the backseat of the car at the time, escaped the accident relatively unscathed. Zoe and a sister were not in the car.
Instead, Zoe was on campus in New Brunswick, studying for a college exam. She heard the devastating news via phone call around 11 p.m. on Oct. 29th and headed home to northern New Jersey for her three siblings, ages 17, 14 and 11.
In an instant, Zoe's life was forever changed. Instead of college and tests, she is now worried about becoming the guardian of her younger siblings and paying the bills so that what's left of her family can stay in their Morris County home.
Zoe connected with Voorhees "social helping" website Wish Upon A Hero, a sort of social media for charitable donations and the sister site of the nonprofit Wish Upon A Hero branch. In a post on the organization's website, she asked for donations to pay for groceries and bills in the upcoming months so that the family can stay together.
"I now have two goals: caring for and being guardian of my three younger siblings and keeping my family in the house we grew up in…I love [my siblings] more than they could ever fathom and I am ready and willing to put any amount of weight on my shoulders to lessen the load on theirs. They are children who deserve to be kids and enjoy the life they have lying before them," she writes. "I am going to be strong for them. I am going to be wise. I am going to be patient. But I won't be naive, and I won't say that I don't need help. Our immediate needs are to pay for groceries and bills in the upcoming months. Every donation is vital to the health and comfort of my siblings I care for and love."
And the community responded. In under 24 hours, about $56,000 in donations was raised for the Everetts. Through a Wish Upon A Hero representative, Zoe released a statement asking that her wish be considered "granted."
"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. 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. If there is something we strive for, it is to be as benevolent and giving as our parents were. They had the ability to see the good in everyone they encountered, and they trusted in the good hearts of humanity. It has been a blessing to witness these qualities in action, as a community and a country pull together for a cause. At this point, 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. My family has been so blessed, and we would like to be able to do the same for others who have suffered the misfortune of Hurricane Sandy. – Zoe"
And while all the money in the world won't bring her parents back, thanks to some very generous people, it will help keep Zoe and her family together.
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