By KAREN RAPOLLA
The holidays are once again fast approaching and FCS (Family & Children’s Service), Monmouth County’s oldest private, nonprofit social service agency’s annual holiday giving program, Operation Sleighbells, will be fulfilling holiday wishes to more than 1,300 area children in need.
This year’s successful annual Leading Lights Gala was help on Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Navesink Country Club in Middletown. The agency honored the former FCS Board Chair Mary Ann McDonald and long-time community partners Bruce Thompson and Thompson Memorial Home and Gloria Nilson. The gala was attended by 200 people and raised $100,000.
This year the program expects to serve nearly 600 families, including over 1,300 children. Each year, Operation Sleighbells is grateful and overwhelmed by the kind generosity of the hundreds of local individuals, families, businesses and organizations who donate each year to the program. Such caring donations brighten the holiday for a family facing financial or challenging times.
“Despite the relatively prosperity of our area, many families, including working families, still have trouble making ends meet,” said Samantha White, FCS director of Volunteer Services and Program Coordinator. “Our Mission at FCS is to support people during challenging times and Operations Sleighbells helps achieve that. We provide relief to struggling families during a very special time of year.”
“The origins of the Sleighbells story goes back to 1909,” explained Maureen Collins, FCS, director of Marketing and Communications, “when a group of people in Long Branch bought toys for local impoverished children. That quickly evolved into expanding donations to include much-needed food and coal for warmth.”
Today, hundreds of local businesses, churches, clubs, organizations, individuals and families provide gifts during the holiday season to those families who are struggling financially or facing difficult challenges during the holiday season. Dignity is preserved by both sponsors’ and recipients’ anonymity.
Operation Sleighbells is unique from other holiday programs in that it addresses the specific wishes of every child. Participating families are local, interviewed by staff and asked to provide the ages, sizes and needs of each child. Donors are then asked to fulfill he requests, either individually or by sponsoring an entire family. The thousands of donated items are then sorted and organized by volunteers. The FCS is once again fortunate to partner with Monmouth Park, which provides the temporary space for Operation Sleighbells at its Oceanport location.
Volunteers are still needed as the holiday season has just begun. To help, contact Operation Sleighbells at 732-222-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to adopt a family or individual.
FCS will provide “sleigh tags” to hang on trees with the first name of a child, age, size and holiday wish to organizations, schools or businesses that would like to participate. Needed are new, unwrapped toys, books, pajamas, coats, hats, gloves, Target or Walmart gift cards and infant necessities to meet the needs of 600 area families this year. Monetary donations are appreciated as well.