Operation Sleighbells to Serve Children & Families Hit by Hurricane Sandy
LONG BRANCH, NJ, November 15, 2012 – For more than a century, Family & Children’s Service (FCS), Monmouth County’s oldest nonprofit social service agency, has been granting the holiday wishes of thousands of local children by collecting donated toys and gifts from individuals and organizations to give to children who would otherwise go without. This year, the agency is expanding its collection efforts to meet an even greater need, as many of the more than 400 families it serves through Operation Sleighbells have also been impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
“We have one client whose entire first floor flooded in the storm, ruining all of her children’s toys and books, not to mention most of the families household goods,” according to FCS’s Samantha White, Manager of Volunteer Services and director of Operation Sleighbells. “Imagine trying to give your children a holiday when you need to replace almost everything you own? It’s a real struggle. We want Operation Sleighbells to be there for her, and for the hundreds of other families who count on us.”
Unlike many other holiday gift-giving programs, Operation Sleighbells addresses the specific wishes of every child. Families are referred to the agency and later interviewed and asked to provide the ages, size and needs of each child. This year, in addition to collecting new toys, books, coats, pajamas, hats & gloves for the children, the agency is also seeking new sheets, blankets, comforters, towels, pots & pans and gift cards to help those families affected by the storm get back on their feet. FCS is coordinating with schools in Highlands, Union Beach, Keyport, Bradley Beach, Long Branch and surrounding communities to identify the families with the greatest need.
Since the very first Operation Sleighbells effort in 1909, when a group of Long Branch citizens decided to provide holiday gifts to impoverished children and their families, the program has relied on the generosity and compassion of its friends and neighbors, most significantly, Monmouth Medical Center (MMC). For the past several years, MMC has donated the use of a vacant 10,000 square foot building on its Long Branch campus to use as a center of operation for Operation Sleighbells. FCS President & CEO Vincent D’Elia says the donated space not only alleviates FCS’s need to spend funds on leasing a comparable facility, but it provides dozens of volunteers and staff a safe, heated, well lit space in which to sort and pack the thousands of donated items distributed to those in need.
“We cannot overstate the contribution made by MMC Executive Director Dr. Frank Vozos and his staff,” D’Elia says. “Without their help, it would be nearly impossible to continue this important holiday tradition year after year.”
The program also depends on thousands of donations from dozens of local corporations, organizations, schools, hospitals, individuals and families. White offers several suggestions for how people can help with this year’s Operation Sleighbells.
- Host a collection drive – FCS will provide sleigh tags to hang or distribute at a person’s workplace, school, club or family event. Each tag lists the first name of a child with his or her age, size and holiday wishes. Employees or group members can then select a sleigh from the tree and buy a gift for that particular child.
- Donate gifts – FCS gladly accept new, unwrapped toys, clothes and non-perishable food items, and will sort and distribute them based on the needs of those registered for the program. Donations can be brought to the agency’s office at 191 Bath Avenue in Long Branch, or dropped off at the Operation Sleighbells headquarters at 295 Third Avenue in Long Branch from December 4th through the 7th or on December 10th.
- Donate money to purchase gift cards for older teens – Donation can be made online or mailed to the agency.
- Volunteer – Volunteer to help sort and pack gifts during the month of December.
In addition, FCS will be conducting a holiday coat drive. Donations of coats of all sizes in good condition for men, women and children are appreciated. The coats will be available to families to select from when they come to pick up their gifts.
For more information about Operation Sleighbells and how you can help, visit the FCS website at www.fcsmonmouth.org or contact the agency at 732-222-9111.