San Diego restaurant owner brings Christmas in January to Superstorm Sandy victims

James Brennan continues to help hometown

SAN DIEGO - Nearly three months after Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of the Northeast, things are not back to normal for many, which one San Diegan knows all too well.

On Friday afternoon in La Jolla, James Brennan's mind and body were at Herringbone, one of the restaurants he co-owns.

However, his heart was somewhere else.

"My heart has always beaten in Rockaway, and more so now," said Brennan.

Brennan has led a tireless effort, which was documented by "60 Minutes," to help Rockaway Beach, N.Y. -- the community where he grew up -- return to normal after being rocked by Superstorm Sandy.

He said his latest inspiration came after asking a child what he was getting for Christmas.

"Before I could even finish the sentence, the mom [said] they're getting heat and hot water for Christmas, and she was serious," said Brennan.

That's when Brennan got serious, too. With help from the head of gift registry website Ziftit.com, he posted the Christmas wish list of about 350 Rockaway children. Donors could then click and buy a gift for a specific child.

"They also know that this is coming from people who care around the country and even around the world," said Brennan, CEO of Enlightened Hospitality Group.

The police and firefighting families who live there have needed it, as Brennan said more than 85 percent didn't have flood insurance.

"A lot of families are just struggling to put together the funds to get the basic necessities, which is a new electric panel, new hot water heater and a new boiler," Brennan said.

Brennan, frustrated by the slow government response, has helped raise nearly $1.5 million. Almost all of it, he said, from San Diegans.

"You know, the community of San Diego, I can't thank you all enough because you've really stepped up and it hasn't gone unnoticed," said Brennan.

Saturday will be Christmas in January when 700 presents are torn open and the room lights up with smiles.

"We're expecting to see a lot of happiness, probably the most happiness the community has seen in a while in one place," said Brennan.

Brennan said the extra month since Christmas was needed to prepare the wish list.

Thanks to an 11th-hour donation from an anonymous San Diegan, the wish list has been completely fulfilled. All the remaining gifts were purchased at a cost of more than $50,000.

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