Strangers Raise $56K to Help Kids Whose Parents Died in Superstorm Sandy

Compassionate strangers banded together this week to raise more than $56,000 to help a 19-year-old college student whose parents were killed in Superstorm Sandy, leaving her to raise her three younger siblings on her own.

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Zoe Everett of Randolph, N.J., posted her story at the Wish Upon a Hero Foundation website.

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"I was studying for an exam, waiting out Hurricane Sandy and then I received a phone call," Zoe, a student at Rugters University, wrote at "At 11 p.m. on October 29th, I found out both of my parents had been killed. They were driving the pickup truck home with my two little brothers sleeping in the back seat."

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Richard Everett, 54, and his wife, Elizabeth, 46, were driving through Mendham Township when winds from Superstorm Sandy sent a 100-foot-tall tree crashing down onto the cab of their truck. Their sons, 14-year-old Theo and 11-year-old Pierce, survived; 17-year-old Talia was not with them at the time.

"My brothers made it out alive but with some bumps and bruises," Zoe wrote. "I finally made it to the hospital in the morning after battling with Hurricane Sandy all night. I was no longer your typical 19-year-old. A moment in time, a second of bad luck, changed my life and my siblings' lives forever."

She immediately decided to drop out of school in order to raise her siblings, but needed help to get by.

"I now have two goals: Caring for and being guardian of my three younger siblings and keeping my family in the house we grew up in," she wrote. "I love them more than they could ever fathom and I am ready and willing to put any amount of weight on my shoulders to lessen the load on theirs."

She was hoping to come up with $5,000 to pay bills and buy groceries while lawyers figure out how to process her parents' estate. Instead, online donors reached deep into their pockets, and raised $56,884.81 for her in a single day.

Tucked among the more than 100 comments were words of support more valuable than money.

"You and your siblings will make it through this. It will be rough but with your guidance and love you will all be OK. Clearly your Mom and Dad did a tremendous job raising you to be the fine young woman you are today," Elizabeth Aprile of Elmsford, N.Y. wrote. "If ever you need a shoulder to cry on or a friend to listen, please don't for a second ever hesitate reaching out to me."

"I am a retired navy SEAL, and can simply offer a safe & comfortable environment for your siblings & remaining family members," wrote Pete Carolan of California. "I salute your ability to survive this ordeal, and am willing to help in any way that I can."

Neighbors posted messages offering everything from hugs to help driving the younger kids to school. Fellow Rutgers students sent sympathy and emotional support, and plenty of people simply offered their prayers. Late Thursday night, Zoe posted a thank you note to the thousands of people who are now a part of her virtual extended family.

"On behalf of my siblings and myself, I would like to express our sincerest thanks for the overwhelming support and generosity shown to us," she wrote. "Wish Upon a Hero has raised funds for my family that have exceeded our wildest dreams. The donations have ensured our well-being for the next few months and will hold us over until we are able to access our own funds."

"If there is something we strive for, it is to be as benevolent and giving as our parents were," she continued. "They had the ability to see the good in everyone they encountered, and they trusted in the good hearts of humanity. It has been a blessing to witness these qualities in action, as a community and a country pull together for a cause."

She asked that those who wish to donate to her family send their money instead to others who are still suffering in the aftermath of the storm.

"My family has been so blessed," she wrote. "We would like to be able to do the same for others who have suffered the misfortune of Hurricane Sandy." (The Wish Upon a Hero Foundation has set up a Hurricane Sandy site; to help out, click here.)

"This wish was spectacular," Wish Upon a Hero's founder, Dave Girgenti, told NBC News. "The entire country came together to help this girl with her tragedy. Her wish is granted."