fcs_sleighbells_2012LONG BRANCH, NJ – More than 1,000 area children and their families, many of whom are displaced and living in temporary housing in the wake of hurricane Sandy, will have a brighter holiday season thanks to the generosity of hundreds of local families, businesses and organizations who donated to Family & Children’s Service’s (FCS) Operation Sleighbells. This year the agency collected an estimated 10,000 new toys, books, children’s coats, hats and gloves, as well as household goods and gift cards, to distribute to more than 475 families from 37 area towns, including hard-hit Belmar, Union Beach, Keansburg, Keyport.  Samantha White, FCS Manager of Volunteer Services, says the donations came from as far north as Vermont, and as far south as Virginia, and filled every nook and cranny of the more than 10,000 square feet of the temporary space donated for the drive by Monmouth Medical Center.

            “The outpouring of generosity has been overwhelming, especially from the local community,” White says. “For every person in need there are dozens willing to help. We received donations from school children whose classmates were impacted by Sandy, by businesses whose employees were displaced or temporarily homeless, and by neighbors who sheltered other neighbors during the storm and felt fortunate to be able to give.”

            Among those who helped make this year’s Operation Sleighbells a success was 16-year-old Kyle Evans of Oceanport whose own home was flooded during Sandy, but who set out to collect 800 new toys for the drive.  He met his goal, as did students at Rumson Country Day School, The Village School in Holmdel, Atlantis Prep in Manasqaun, West Freehold School, the Dugan School in Marlboro and Colts Neck High School who also donated hundreds of gifts.

            Unlike many other holiday gift-giving programs, Operation Sleighbells addresses the specific wishes of every child. Families are referred through other social service agencies and later interviewed and asked to provide the ages, size and needs of each child. This year, in addition to collecting for the children, the agency also sought new sheets, blankets, comforters, towels, pots & pans and gift cards to help those families affected by the storm get back on their feet. 

            Nicole Lewis, whose home in Union Beach was wiped from the map after Sandy, and her neighbor Amanda Martin, were among the many displaced families referred to the program this year. Nicole, her husband and young son, have no home to speak of and are living in temporary housing. The storm literally lifted their house off its foundation and carried it away. Meanwhile, Amanda, her husband and three young boys are living in a friend’s home until he returns in January, but have no idea where they will go after that.

            “There is so much hardship, but there are also so many good things that have happened as a result of this storm,” Nicole says. “This program is one of them. It’s so wonderful to know that so many people want to help us.”

            Many local companies and businesses also sponsored collection drives or made donations to this year’s Operation Sleighbells, including Comvault, Viecore, MSpace Holdings, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and many, many others. White says their contributions, along with the contributions of dozens of volunteers who spent countless hours sorting and bagging the donations, helped make this year's Operation Sleighbells a success. For more information about Operations Sleighbells, visit the agency’s website at www.fcsmonmouth.org or contact the agency at 732-222-9111.