SUSSEX COUNTY-There is a refreshing synergy among charitable organizations in Sussex County. Whether serving meals, assisting seniors, helping children in need or mobilizing volunteers, local agencies were not only aware of other service programs, but shared clients and services with them, to provide a comprehensive support system throughout the community. Additionally, many non-profit organizations manage to serve the county without any government funding. They rely solely on the generosity of the community, including private volunteers and civic organizations. The Newton Nutrition Site is part of Sussex County's Meals-on-Wheels program, providing home delivery of prepared food to people in need. There are nearly 150 homebound seniors throughout the county who are unable to cook for themselves. Every weekday morning, Nutrition Site volunteers deliver a home-cooked meal to each home. With the approach of inclement weather, they package and deliver special "blizzard bags" of non-perishable foods in case Mother Nature forces the cancellation or delay of the daily deliveries. Kathy Talmadge, program coordinator and nutrition site manger, said there has been a 50 percent increase in clients over the past five years. She attributes the change to the delay in nursing home admissions. "More people are trying to stay in their own homes," said Talmadge. For those able to travel, there are other options. For nearly 17 years, the Manna House has been serving free meals daily, Monday through Friday, to anyone who walks through the door n with no pre-registration or income stipulations. Housed at the Presbyterian Church of Newton, Manna House remains an ecumenical soup kitchen, as it was at its inception in 1987. Each congregation of the 25 participating churches sends volunteers one day per month. Between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. they set up, prepare the meal, serve, and clean up. Volunteers serve an average of 55 warm meals daily to their neighbors in need. "Manna House continues to survive on the spontaneous giving of the community," said Linda Zwart, president. Congregations from different denominations, local businesses, civic groups and individuals donate to the program. And it is rarely necessary to buy food, thanks to donations from schools, Scout troops, youth groups, and grocery stores. An old member of the safety net is the Salvation Army, which last year touched the lives of over 360,000 New Jersey residents through popular service projects such as Adopt a Family and the Angel Tree toy collection. One of the largest and most familiar, fund-raising drives is the Army's Red Kettle Campaign at Christmas. Interested volunteers are encouraged to register through the organization's Web site. Ginnie's House is Sussex County's Children's Advocacy Center. Located in the Park Building in Newton, Ginnie's House is a member of the National Children's Alliance, established to minimize the impact on child victims during the legal investigation and prosecution of a crime. The center is available to children throughout Sussex County who may have been sexually or physically abused, assaulted or witnessed a violent crime, including domestic violence. Ginnie's House provides a neutral, child oriented and safe environment for children and their non-offending caretakers. No alleged perpetrators are permitted access to the building. The center is not a residential facility. Families use the center's services during crisis and leave to the safety of appropriate homes arranged by the Division of Youth and Family Services. There is no fee for any services offered at Ginnie's House. One of the largest organizations looking out for families in need in the county is the Northwest New Jersey Community Action Program, which provides cost-effective, coordinated services to low-income people in Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Sussex, Passaic and Warren counties. And their portfolio of services is as long as their name. Overall, the program's goal is to build self-esteem, encouraging people to achieve their potential and, ultimately, improve their self-sufficiency. Specifically, the organization provides child care, Head Start programs, information and referral, senior citizen services, a food bank, energy assistance, affordable housing, home repair, and a variety of counseling services. The program, which was created in 1965, serves everyone from infants to the elderly, individuals and families. In addition, the program offers as many outlets for volunteering time as they do programs to serve the community. The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, for example, provides volunteer opportunities for individuals aged 55 and over. In Sussex and Warren counties alone, over 660 RSVP volunteers donate 130,000 hours of service to non-profit agencies and schools, saving them more than $1 million each year. Project Self Sufficiency serves approximately 900 clients per year throughout Sussex County. Serving predominately single parents, teen parents, pregnant women and teens, the agency's mission is to help low-income families become economically self-sufficient. Project Self Sufficiency provides a broad range of programs and services, including job training and placement, free legal assistance, child care, and a family literacy program. Food and clothing donations meet basic needs in an emergency. In 18 years, Project Self Sufficiency has helped 15,000 families and over 24,000 children. In fact, one former client now serves on the agency's board of directors, and her children are PSS volunteers. (See sidebar.) One of the newest organizations in the county is Pass It Along. Headquartered in Sparta, Pass It Along was created to inspire, mobilize and lead volunteers to service projects in which individuals "pass along" their gifts to meet the critical needs of their community. Serving Sussex, Warren and Northern Morris counties, Pass It Along is entirely funded by individual donations, corporate sponsorships, special events and grants. From its beginnings as a "Birthday Brigade" just three years ago, taking gifts and balloons to children at shelters, Pass It Along is now a Sussex County Chamber of Commerce 2004 Community Service Winner, with over 60 community service partners. "We really try to provide age appropriate' opportunities to our volunteers," said Susan Loyas, board member and head volunteer. "We work with everyone from six-year-olds to seniors, but teenagers are really the heart and soul of our organization." Pope John, one of several area high schools with a Pass It Along chapter, exemplifies the organization's growth over the past few years. Pope John had 238 students participate in 30 projects during the 2003-2004 school year, totaling 1,826 hours of community service. Pass It Along provides volunteers to other non-profits throughout the area when they need help. They have planted flowers at Ginnie's House, provided mentors to Tilly's Kids and have teamed up with First Hope Bank to sponsor the 2004 Note in a Coat drive, among countless other synergistic efforts. As the holiday season approaches, there are abundant opportunities to "give thanks" by giving back to those in the community who are less fortunate. Many find out that time spent volunteering is be the best "free" time they've ever had.