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For Florida's hurricane victims, a generous Christmas after all

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Strings of twinkling fairy lights provide a colorful contrast to the sea of tarpaulin blue that still covers many of the houses along Florida's hurricane-battered Treasure Coast.

To some residents, the bright holiday lights merely illuminate the terrible damage inflicted by hurricanes Frances and Jeanne during the worst storm season in living memory, highlighting the repairs that have to be carried out before life can return to anything resembling normal.

But the holiday decorations are shining symbols of hope to many more - even those who were made homeless or whose lives were otherwise torn apart by the double catastrophe that struck the state's Atlantic coastline this year.

Now, in a triumph of human generosity, 2,600 children in Martin County will be given a Christmas to remember. Charity volunteers who run an annual holiday food and toy giveaway in the county have been overwhelmed by donations for hurricane victims.

A two-day "shop" for more than 1,000 families in need took place in Stuart this week.

"We didn't think we'd be celebrating Christmas this year because we lost so much," says Maria Ramos, the mother of two young children whose home in Jensen Beach lost most of its roof to hurricane Frances after the eye made landfall in the early hours of Sept. 5. "These people are angels."

Ms. Ramos says it had been heartbreaking to explain to her 7-year-old daughter, Cristina, that all her toys were gone, scattered or destroyed by the 105 mile-per-hour winds and rain that whistled around the girl's bedroom.

Ramos found a new doll for Cristina and a collection of model cars for 5-year-old son Roberto, among other presents. She also picked up a bag of holiday groceries, including a turkey, on the way out. "These gifts I could not afford," she says.

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