Residents of Mendham have joined up with Operation Jersey Shore Santa to ensure that children devastated by Sandy will enjoy a bit of hope this holiday season.
"Last Saturday my family and I helped bring the many donations collected from the residents of Mendham to the Port Monmouth, Keansburg and Union Beach," said Mendham Township resident Terri Christmann. "That drive was initiated by Noreen Staples."
According to Christmann, seeing the level of devastation at the shore and meeting the people trying to comprehend that everything they owned was gone, was heart wrenching.
"It was amazing to see how resilient they were as they cleaned out, or simply gutted their homes," Christmann said. "It was obvious they were helping each other and were all in it together trying to rebuild their communities."
While in Union Beach, Christmann met Michael O'Hea, who was organizing donations he received from his co workers in his driveway. When Christmann asked how they could help, he directed them to Operation Jersey Shore Santa.
Operation Jersey Shore Santa was launched only days after Sandy rolled through New Jersey and their volunteers are working to collect toys and clothes for families who may not have the resources to celebrate this year, explained founder Jackie O'Leary of Brick.
O'Leary, a small business owner who operates a party entertainment company for children, had friends and family encouraging her to do a fundraiser for the area. After thinking about the best way to help, O'Leary opted to draw on her ten years of experience running a holiday toy drive with St. Justin's Church in Toms River. She ran the idea by some friends a week and a half ago, and the project quickly gained momentum.
"We now have a board of five members and at least 75 to 80 volunteers across maybe four counties that want to help collect and sort and wrap and help deliver the gifts," O'Leary said. "We even had a division of the New Jersey State Police contact us saying they want to collect for us, and the owner of a towing company is giving us a flat bead truck and decorating it and taking Santa and the elves to go deliver the gifts."
The organization has an official website, however has been interacting with eager volunteers and donors through a Facebook page. On Facebook, they offer a list of suggested donations and a regularly updated list of specific donations that families have requested.
The needs of each family varies, O'Leary explained, and the requests vary from clothes and winter accessories to Dora the Explorer toys and coloring books.
O'Leary emphasized that without the kindness of New Jersey residents, none of this would be possible.
"It's not a one person thing, it's through the many, many volunteers and many generous people that this is becoming such a successful operation," she said. "As a whole, New Jersey is a very close-knit state. Yeah we bicker and yeah we butt heads, but when something like this happens it really seems the communities come together."
For her part, Christmann spent the latter part of the week setting up drop boxes for goods:
MOVE! The Anti Gym
Now that things have returned to almost normal in the region, Christmann is hoping the focus will shift to others in need.
"It would be great if we got a big showing from our area," Christmann said.
According to O'Leary, Operation Jersey Shore Santa will donate gifts to children regardless of what holiday they celebrate.
If you or a friend are in need of assistance this holiday season, there are several ways you can contact Operation Jersey Shore Santa:
- Call their headquarters at 732-701-7012
- Direct message them on Facebook
- Send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fill out a form online at http://www.operationjerseyshoresanta.org/
Operation Jersey Shore Santa also has a list of Frequently Asked Questions if you would like more information.