Dozens of New Yorkers from a neighborhood ravaged by Superstorm Sandy lined up in a school auditorium Thursday to receive $1,000 debit cards from a financial services firm that lost hundreds of employees in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“This is such a help to my little son, who is emotionally challenged and lost everything,” said Debbie Torres, clutching her cash card from the brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald. “G-d, thank You. These people here, thank you. Thank everybody.”
Cantor Fitzgerald, whose Sept. 11 death toll of 658 was by far the largest of any employer, announced Thursday that it will “adopt” 19 schools in communities hit hard by Sandy and give a total of $10 million to families in those schools.
Cantor Fitzgerald, its relief fund and its affiliate BGC Partners are donating $1,000 each to 10,000 families to spend as they see fit. Cantor officials joined elected leaders at Public School 256 in Far Rockaway on Thursday to start the effort.
“This is going to be used up in a heartbeat because we have nothing,” said Theresa Ward, who said her neighborhood looked like a war zone after the storm hit on Oct. 29.
Ward and her husband, Paul, left immediately to shop for a bed for their 17-year-old son because the furniture in his ground-floor bedroom was destroyed. Their home still doesn’t have heat, and the family, which also includes a 4-year-old boy, is planning to move.
Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick said he learned after Cantor’s devastating loss of so many employees with young children that help should come with no strings attached.
“The best way to take care of a family is to put money in the hands of the parents and let them decide what to do,” he said. “Maybe they need a couch, and maybe they need to go to Toys R Us and buy their kids a present.”
Cantor Fitzgerald’s headquarters on the 101st through 105th floors of One World Trade Center was destroyed when terrorists struck the tower, and the company lost two-thirds of its New York workforce. Lutnick was not in the office but his brother Gary was killed.
The Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund run by Lutnick’s sister Edie was established to aid the families of Cantor employees lost on Sept. 11, but its scope has since expanded to include scores of charities around the world.
“We wanted to … memorialize those that we lost in a way that was positive, and to do good things,” Edie Lutnick said.
She said that when Sandy hit the region last October, the relief fund immediately wanted to help. The schools selected for aid are in areas where Cantor employees live or have other connections.
The Lutnicks joined Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Gregory Meeks and other officials at the Far Rockaway school to hand out the first cash cards.
Cantor Fitzgerald has been affected by Sandy too. The firm moved its headquarters to midtown after the 2001 attacks but had more than 500 employees at an office on Water Street in lower Manhattan when the storm flooded the area. It relocated to Cantor’s other offices, Howard Lutnick said.
The Water Street site has still not reopened.