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A Special Christmas for an Ocean City Youngster Long Ago

Ocean City's Mark Soifer reminds us of the importance of giving.

Ocean City Public Relations Director Mark Soifer first wrote this story for the Ocean City Sentinel on Dec. 24, 1981. More than 30 years later, its message still resonates — particularly at a time when so many on the island are in need of assistance as they try to recover from the damage left by Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29.

You’ve probably seen Joey around town. He’s everywhere.  An energetic, dark eyed waif who’s always looking for work. 

In the summer he sells newspapers wherever he can. Sometimes he negotiates
City Hall steps with a bundle of papers that must weigh more than he does. He haunts the supermarkets eager to carry your bag to the car for loose change. With Joey the work ethic is very important. He’s reluctant to accept money unless he’s done something to earn it.

You get the idea that Joey has learned very early that you have to be continuously doing something, pushing hard to earn a buck.

Little Joey, 9 years old and going on 40 is the only man of the house. There is no father. There’s a mother who works very hard to keep things together but it isn’t enough for Joey and his sister. So out into the streets and into the hearts of many wanders a slight youngster, a combination of Oliver Twist and Huckleberry Finn, looking for the key to survival.

Like any street kid, Joey is no angel. He’s polite to most but when agitated acquaintances report that his vocabulary can defeather a chicken.

Joey turned up at City Hall several weeks ago looking for work. He was about as “down and out” as we’d seen him for a long time. He was wearing tennis shoes that should have been tossed out two years ago.

The fronts and sides were open and there was no real protection from the damp and cold.

His jacket was threadbare and he had no gloves. As with every energetic, normal child he was hungry.

Unfortunately Joey isn’t always certain where his next meal is coming from. He has a good lunch at school. But sometimes food runs low at home and he relies on friends for treats at McDonald’s. Then there are the times when his friends just aren’t around.

Anyway, in the spirit of the holidays, this story has a relatively happy ending. Friends at City Hall have bought Joey a new pair of shoes, coat, gloves and other gifts. The Colony Club is delivering a food basket for Christmas and the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, learning of Joey’s situation, also helped to buy clothing.

Several family service groups are aware of Joey and attempting to help. 

Joey is a bright, eager lad with the innate abilities to be a success. With a little assistance, he may operate his own supermarket some day and help out a spirited kid just like himself who wants to carry groceries to earn a hamburger and French Fries.

It could go the other way, too. And that would be a shame. Because the raw materials for maturity and development are there, just like they are for every disadvantaged youngster in this great and sometimes brutal society of ours.

If you spot a Joey in your neighborhood maybe you could do something to help him or her along. What a great gift that would be in this wondrous holiday season.

Joey’s story has a happy ending. He worked his way through college and is now a talented filmmaker. Read more.

But Joey needed help. And this holiday season numerous Ocean City residents still require assistance to put their lives back together following the storm. Fortunately they are in the minority, and OCNJ CARE and the City are working to assist them. You can help by sending a check to OCNJ CARE, Box 807, Ocean City, N.J. 08226 or dropping a donation off at Ocean City Home Bank, 10th and Asbury Avenue.

Ocean City’s downtown is now operating with all but a few of its 100 stores. PLEASE PATRONIZE OUR DOWNTOWN during this holiday season. You’ll receive personal service and good values.

The Boardwalk received very little damage, and all of the merchants who normally operate during the holiday season are open and will stay open through Jan. 1.

— Mark Soifer

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