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Matawan community reaches out to seniors, children with ‘Sending Holiday Smiles’ effort

Sending Holiday Smiles, a community outreach for children and the elderly in Matawan, will benefit those in need with gifts, holiday letters, and uplifting cards.

MATAWAN – In the midst of the 2021 holiday season, Matawan residents are reaching out to their neighbors. The effort includes buying toys for a toy drive and sending letters and greeting cards to senior citizens.

Mayor Joseph Altomonte and members of the Borough Council created the community outreach effort, which has been led by Matawan Public Information Officer Cathy Zavorskas and council President John Lazar, to boost the spirits of older residents and to help ease the burden on families who are struggling financially.

The effort has been dubbed “Sending Holiday Smiles.”

Zavorskas said although the holiday season is a joyous time for many people, it can be a challenging time for isolated individuals and families that are struggling financially.

“(The outreach) teaches us that empathy, concern and altruism are vital and important qualities. Writing a letter and knowing that doing such a simple thing can bring so much joy to someone reminds us it doesn’t take much to help others or to show compassion and concern for them.

“The council members believe in community service to include projects such as this one. They have been involved in several projects for the benefit of people in need, including food drives and clothing drives, a holiday care package drive, and even building snowmen outside the windows of nursing home residents,” Zavorskas said.

Lazar said council members took action in 2020 after they observed how the coronavirus pandemic was impacting senior citizens in a negative manner. He credited Zavorskas for taking the lead on the project.

“Last year many residents (at various sites) could not receive visitors due to the pandemic. Sadly, some of those people never received visitors even before the pandemic began. That should not be the case around the holidays. We decided there had to be some way to help so we took action.

“In 2020 we distributed hundreds of cards and were able to see firsthand how something as simple as a handwritten letter can make a huge difference in the life of someone with no living friends or family.

“No one should be alone and forgotten during the holidays. That is the reason we are continuing the tradition this year. Without (Zavorskas’) help this idea would never have gotten off the ground. She has been amazing getting businesses on board and helping design fliers and messaging,” Lazar said.

Organizations that have joined the effort are working with American Legion Matawan Post 176, the Sons of the American Revolution-Monmouth Chapter, and the Saint Mark’s Center for Community Renewal in Keansburg.

Lazar said the effort has sought to assist local children in need with a toy drive and a gift card drive.

“Saint Mark’s does an amazing job assisting the local homeless community and will make sure the toys get into the hands of the children who need them most. Just as no senior citizen should be alone, we believe every child deserves to get at least one gift. If we can help make that happen locally, even for one child, it makes this effort completely worth it,” he said.

Robert Meyer, the commander of American Legion Matawan Post 176, said, “I was asked if I would like to participate with the Matawan toy drive for Saint Mark’s and I said I would be very honored to join them and I know my post (wanted) to work on the project with them.

“I believe that if we have a way to help someone else, we should try to help … You wake up on Christmas morning knowing you helped make Christmas better for someone you don’t even know. Isn’t that beautiful?” Meyer said.

The Geekery, 19 Little St., and KP Edgestone Realty, 76 Main St., Suite 1, have served as drop-off locations for toys and for letters and cards to seniors.

On Dec. 23, letters and cards for seniors may be dropped off at those locations. The letters and cards do not need to be addressed to a specific individual, but the person writing a card or a letter may include his or her name and address.

The letters and cards will be distributed to area seniors. Each letter and card should be placed in an unsealed envelope, and that should be place in another unsealed envelope. For more information, see Sending Holiday Smiles – Letter & Card Campaign Flyer

Lazar and Zavorskas wished residents a joyous and safe holiday season and Lazar said, “My holiday wish to Matawan would be for us all to come together as one town, one community, during this holiday season to help our most vulnerable residents when the rest of the world may have forgotten about them. No elderly resident or child should ever be alone or forgotten during the holidays.”

Sending Holiday Smiles will feature a toy drive on Dec. 17 and a letter-writing collection on Dec. 23.
Council President John Lazar takes a selfie with Sending Holiday Smiles participants from last year’s event.
Santa, along with two youngsters, deliver a holiday letter to the home of a senior citizen.
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