The annual Season of Hope Toy Drive was recently launched by Project Self-Sufficiency and a consortium of businesses, schools, and social service agencies. This massive undertaking aims to provide gift cards and new, unwrapped toys to parents and caregivers of more than 2,000 children and teens in the New Jersey counties of Sussex and Northern Warren.
Donations are needed immediately.
“We are searching for individuals, youth groups, social service agencies, scouting troop, moms’ groups, churches and other organizations which will step in and coordinate gift card and toy drives on behalf of the low-income families in our area,” said Deborah Berry-Toon, executive director of Project Self-Sufficiency. “The Season of Hope Toy Drive directly benefits Sussex and Northern Warren County families in need. The items collected here stay right here. It truly is a way for neighbors to help each other during this extraordinarily challenging time.”
Due to public health guidelines, all donated items must be sanitized prior to distribution to families in need. Therefore, organizers are suggesting that gift cards be donated in lieu of traditional toys. Soft and fabric-covered items such as stuffed animals and clothing cannot be accepted.
Donated items can be dropped off at Project Self-Sufficiency, 127 Mill Street in Newton, Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information call 973-940-3500 or 844-807-3500 or visit projectselfsufficiency.org.
The music plays on
The Season of Hope Toy Shop benefits from the talents of hundreds of musicians each year. Normally, individuals and ensembles perform holiday tunes in multiple locations every hour. But because of health restrictions, patrons will not be allowed inside the buildings this year, so a video of performances by the same musicians will be played while shoppers wait outside for their items to be provided to them. Music for the kick-off was provided by Katlyn Rose of the Bill Wright School of Music.
“At this time each year, I am reminded of why this is the best place to live in of our State of New Jersey,” said New Jersey State Senator Steve Oroho, who made an appearance. “I am proud that I have been part of the rewarding and kind-hearted Season of Hope campaign for a decade now. This year, through the care, commitment, and dedication of people across our area, we will help make the holiday season a happier one for more than 2,000 children. With all that is happening due to the coronavirus pandemic, including many parents who have lost their job or lost many hours of work, I hope more and more people who are able can contribute this year to put a smile on the faces of our children and their parents.”
Sussex County Freeholder Director Sylvia Petillo said the holidays “always start early at Project Self-Sufficiency as they prepare to transform their facility into Santa’s Toy Shop filled with gifts for children and teens. Their outreach to our community makes Christmas come alive and touches the hearts of so many people.”
The annual toy drive has served thousands of children in northwestern New Jersey for many years. The initiative solicits donations from individuals, businesses, civic organizations, schools, youth groups, athletic teams and other groups throughout November and early December. Area elementary schools, middle schools and high schools have been invited to participate in a competitive Stuff the Stocking campaign. Nineteen schools have registered to date, a significant decline from previous years, which organizers attribute to the impact of COVID-19.
“In a year that has brought much change to many of our families, the Stuff the Stocking tradition has become even more valuable,” said Matthew Beck, Sussex County Superintendent Roundtable president and Fredon chief school administrator. “Our school communities believe that helping one another is important throughout the year and especially during the holiday season. The schools across Sussex and Northern Warren Counties look forward to continuing this annual tradition and bringing joy to our families in need.”
Berry-Toon said the pandemic “has upended business as usual for our day-to-day operations, and the Season of Hope Toy Drive has also had to be significantly modified in order to comply with social distancing guidelines and other factors.”
Traditionally, the toy shop operates during two days in mid-December, helped by hundreds of volunteers, law enforcement officers, and musicians as Project Self-Sufficiency helps parents select toys for their children, she said. But now, the toy shop will have to operate throughout November and December; public health guidelines prohibit the presence of numerous staff and volunteers on site. “Therefore, we are asking that donations of funds, gift cards, and toys be received by early November,” she said.
Blake Ellman, a Project Self-Sufficiency Board of Directors member, and his wife, Cathy, are serving as the honorary chairpersons of this year’s drive.
“The Season of Hope Toy Shop has traditionally given parents a dignified way of providing holiday gifts for their children when they may be experiencing financial hardship,” said Ellman. “The pandemic has caused catastrophic economic fallout for many families in our area, and Cathy and I are committed to helping to make their holidays a little brighter this year.”
“The Season of Hope Toy Shop has traditionally given parents a dignified way of providing holiday gifts for their children when they may be experiencing financial hardship. The pandemic has caused catastrophic economic fallout for many families in our area, and Cathy and I are committed to helping to make their holidays a little brighter this year.” Blake Ellman, Season of Hope Toy Shop co-chair