Rise holiday party turns struggles into smiles (With multiple photos)

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By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
Christmas came a few days early – 16 days, to be exact – as Rise, A Community Service Partnership, held its annual holiday party Dec. 9 at the Melvin H. Kreps Middle School on Kent Lane.
About 750 children of the 1,000 who registered for the party attended the event, said Leslie Koppel, the executive director of Rise. The non-profit group provides social support services and other programs to help low-income families in the Hightstown Borough-East Windsor Township area.
“The holiday party brings the community together,” Koppel said. “It helps to relieve stress for families that struggle. It’s fun and the children have a good time.”
The families of many of the children who attended the holiday party use Rise’s food pantry and other offerings, Koppel said. Rise offers a thrift store, a gently-used furniture store and a summer camp program, among its offerings.
But all of that was put aside for a few hours, as the children and their families enjoyed the holiday party. There were games for the children, such as pin-the-tail-on-the-snowman. A child could have a photograph taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
The Junior League of Greater Princeton, which helps to organize the party, coordinated the games and crafts. Children could make jewelry, enhanced by jingle bells.
The Greater Hightstown Juniorettes group was in charge of face-painting, Koppel said. The six volunteer “painters” painted holiday-themed images on the children – from candy canes to Christmas trees.
“No child walked out of there without some pictures on their hands or face,” Koppel said.
Although Rise had collected enough gifts for 1,000 children, many of the toys and games remained unclaimed at the end of the party. Those gifts are available at Rise’s main office at 116 N. Main Street (above 12 Farms) in Hightstown Borough, through Dec. 20, Monday through Thursday between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., and from 2 to 4 p.m.
To collect a gift, a family must show proof of income, plus a report card from the East Windsor Regional School District to prove that the young recipient is enrolled in the public school district.
“We had a lot of generous donors this year,” Koppel said. The gifts were intended for the community’s children, and Rise wants to see those gifts get into their hands, she said.