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Lyme - To walk through the open bay door at Ashlawn Farm's Roastery on Sunday was a pan-sensory experience. Several "stations" were set up on tables where smiling citizens wrapped packages, made holiday ornaments, organized gift bags and carried on seasonal gossip against the sound of carols and the commingling scent of fresh coffee, hot chocolate and cookies.
Outside, the sky was packed with low gray clouds, the sort that, should the temperature drop a dozen degrees or so, might spill flakes into the air. Indeed, snow seemed to be the only thing missing on an otherwise perfectly sculpted Christmas scene.
Kim Strachan watched happily as cars pulled in and a steady succession of townfolks spilled out carrying boxes and gifts, adding to the happy chaos.
After all, the event, called "Light Up Staten Island" was her idea - a way for local residents to donate and/or make on-site Christmas ornaments and gifts to brighten up the holidays for Staten Island hurricane victims.
As noble as the project was, Strachan was inspired by perhaps the greatest sentiment of all: gratitude.
Diagnosed several months back with a serious illness, Strachan underwent arduous treatment that kept her from her beloved job as a kindergarten teacher at Lyme Consolidated Elementary School.
When she recovered sufficiently to return to teaching, she was so overwhelmed with joy at seeing her students - and so grateful to them and their families for support given during her medical leave - that she wanted to pay forward their kindness.
"It bolstered my spirits so much to be back with the students and their families. There really is something about Lyme ... there's a lot of love here. When my students and their parents found out about my diagnosis, I was just flooded with messages and cards and offers of help. I'd gotten so much energy and spirit over the past year from everyone, and I wanted to pay that forward," she said.
Strachan's return to school coincided with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. While her home was not significantly damaged, an entire, multi-generational collection of family holiday ornaments and heirlooms was destroyed.
"There was no loss of life, and that's what's most important. But when we saw the devastation that happened in Staten Island and all the destroyed homes and property, and I thought about the loss of our holiday items, I thought of a specific way where maybe we could help," she said.
What, she thought, if the Lyme/Old Lyme community could bring a little Christmas to Staten Island? Instinctively, she thought of the support she'd gotten from current and past students and their parents.
"I called the school moms," she laughed. "That's all it took."
Ann Lightfoot, Eliza Sharp, Dottie Wells, Tracie McGlinchey, Carol Dahlke, Kristin Thornton and Sarah Crisp responded at once and got the event organized.
"It just came together," Lightfoot said. "Everyone assumed responsibility for what they're good at, and it worked out."
Dahlke, owner of Ashlawn Farms, an organic coffee company, volunteered the roastery as a host spot.
"We have so much space and it just seemed like it might be a good spot to do something like this," Dahlke said.
With that, plans were put in motion and Sunday was set aside as a celebratory afternoon for friends, neighbors and volunteers to organize, make and otherwise assimilate Christmas finery - destination Staten Island.
Gifts, trees, lights and all manners of donated materials actually started showing up on Wednesday, Dahlke said.
Despite the overwhelming response, there will be no problem getting the holiday adornments to Staten Island. Jason Thornton, husband of Kristin Thornton, who works for the town's Parks and Recreation Department, has arranged for a truck and the delivery will take place this Sunday.
Strachan will be along for the ride.
"It's an awesome feeling," she said. "Not just that people are being so kind, but that kindness itself is contagious."