Gross' brother, Jerry, who moved to Arizona in the 1960s, was stunned by what he saw when he returned for Thanksgiving.
"To come back and see the boardwalk all devastated like it is, it's like going to Manhattan and finding Times Square gone," he said.
George Alvarez, whose Toms River, N.J., home suffered moderate damage when Sandy hit the coast, said his family usually does "the traditional big dinner" on Thanksgiving. But this year, they chose to attend a community dinner held at an area church.
"This storm not only impacted us, it impacted a lot of our friends, our community, our psyche," Alvarez said shortly before his family headed out for their meal. "We could have had our usual dinner here at home, but this year it felt like we should be with others who are experiencing the same concerns we are. We made it through this devastating storm, and that's something to celebrate."
Across the country, other cities offered a mix of holiday cheer and acts of charity.
Thousands of people made the most of the mild, sunny fall weather to watch Detroit's Thanksgiving parade, hours ahead of the Lions' annual home game.
Floats and marching bands poured down Woodward Avenue on Thursday morning, with many spectators forgoing the cold-weather gear of past parades. Detroit's temperature hit 52 degrees at 11 a.m., with a warm wind blowing from the south.
Parade participants included NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, a 28-year-old Rochester Hills native and the first Michigan-born driver to win the Sprint Cup Series.
In San Francisco, lines of the homeless and less fortunate began forming late Wednesday outside a church in the city's tough Tenderloin district that expected to serve more than 5,000 meals, said the Rev. Cecil Williams.
"We must make sure people can overcome all adversities," Williams said. "You can, you will and you must."
On New York City's Rockaway Peninsula, convenience store owner Mohamed Razack said he was able to open again Wednesday for the first time since the storm.
"At first, I was very depressed, but now, I'm proud," said Mohamed Razack, 50. "We are the first store to open around here."
AP radio correspondent Julie Walker, AP video journalist Ted Shaffrey and Associated Press writers Kiley Armstrong and Karen Matthews in New York, Alison Barnwell on Long Island, Bruce Shipkowski in New Jersey and Terry Collins in San Francisco contributed to this report.