EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Cradling her toddler in one arm with her 11-year-old daughter close behind, a shocked and tearful Kristen Hajiantoniou exited her East Rutherford apartment building on Saturday morning into a sea of borough officials, loved ones and strangers — each holding a Christmas present for her family.
Hajiantoniou — whose daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor four months after her husband began his battle with terminal pancreatic cancer — knew she was being adopted by more than 8,500 Bergen County moms for Christmas.
But she had no idea they'd be showing up on her doorstep this weekend.
"I did not expect this," said Hajiantoniou, surrounded by firefighters, police officers, teachers and Santa Claus himself (SEE: Cancer-Stricken East Rutherford Family Adopted By 8,500 Bergen County Moms ).
"After everything we have been through this just means so much. This will be the lasting image from this Christmas."
Leading the troops was Westwood mom Annie Steinberg, the administrator of the Bergen County Moms Facebook page. Steinberg — who collected the gifts and recruited the community to Hajiantoniou's doorstep — did it all because it was the right thing to do, she said.
"My kids don't want for anything — and hers do," Steinberg said. "And I hate that, so if I can help, I should."
Fireman brought gifts upstairs to Hajiantoniou's husband from the sidewalk. Meanwhile, Hajiantoniou was reacquainted with her childhood friends — many of whom she hadn't seen in years.
"I'm so happy to be able to do this," said one friend, Sandra Gonzalez, who grew up with Kristen in Lyndhurst. "I think it brings some kind of peace to Kirsten to let her know we are here and we're behind her."
Although Hajiantoniou and her children are spending Christmas with Manolis' life is in jeopardy, the support from the East Rutherford community has helped inspire some faith in her.
"Never be afraid to ask for help," she said. "I was always afraid to ask for help. We were the family to help others, but now it is our turn, and I could not be more grateful."