On a frigid January evening, Sheryl Santi stood on the loading dock of a Times Square toy store, enraptured by the dedication of those surrounding her. As the proprietor of Santi Express, a 41-year-old moving and storage company in Rockland County, the sight of swaddled furniture being hauled away on one of her trucks was a common one. But this time around, the cargo was far more precious than any sofa or dining room table.
When the toy store closed its doors, the owners decided to donate the gondolas from its theatrical Ferris wheel to Give Kids the World Village, an idyllic, 79-acre nonprofit resort outside Orlando, Florida. Founded by hotelier and Holocaust survivor Henri Landwirth in 1989, the resort treats children suffering from long-term illnesses (and their families) to weeklong, cost-free vacations — a fantasy come true for kids who otherwise might not get the chance to visit the Sunshine State attractions they’ve long dreamed of. “For one week, they live as they wish they could their whole lives. It’s a beautiful thing,” says Santi.
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Santi offered up two of her moving trucks to haul four truckloads of 14 gondolas — 14 in all, some of which were up to eight feet wide — from midtown Manhattan to Little Ferry, New Jersey. There, several tractor-trailers (verboten on New York City streets) donated by Wheaton World Wide Moving and Bekins Van Lines were waiting to bring the stash down to Florida. Instead of rebuilding the Ferris wheel, the resort plans to reuse the colorful gondolas — which depict familiar cartoon characters like Toy Story’s Woody and My Little Pony, as well as figures from Monopoly and Lego — as train cars that can accommodate wheelchairs and oxygen tanks.
Santi, who provided her trucks out of sheer kindness, has always been motivated to nurture others. She started Santi Express in Monsey with her late husband, John, a commercial mover from Manhattan. Originally, it was meant to be a side project, since Sheryl — a Brooklyn and Long Island native — already had a fulfilling job as a nurse. Gradually the business, now headquartered in Valley Cottage, expanded and became quite successful, undoubtedly propelled by the owner’s genuine love for people.
“The community has kept me in business and when you have such good fortune it’s your responsibility to help,” she explains. “Anybody can write a check, but not everyone can give their time and of themselves.”