LONG BRANCH, NJ - The Holidays may be several months away, but staff and volunteers at Family & Children's Service (FCS), Monmouth County's oldest nonprofit social service agency, are hoping for an early Christmas gift. The agency is in critical need of least 5,000 square feet of space to house and operate its signature holiday gift giving program, Operation Sleighbells, or face the possibility of serving fewer needy families and children this holiday season.

"Operation Sleighbells is an enormous undertaking that involves hundreds of volunteers and thousands of donated items," says FCS CEO Delly Beekman. "Last year we distributed nearly 10,000 gifts to more than 1,500 children from throughout Monmouth County. Our goal is to provide gifts to even more families who qualify for the program this year, but we can't do it without adequate space."

Operation Sleighbells is different than other holiday giving drives in that it addresses the specific wishes of every child. Participating families are interviewed by staff in September and asked to provide the ages, sizes and needs of each child. The children's needs and wishes are then met anonymously by individuals, businesses, corporations, organizations and families from throughout the community, who come forward to fulfill the requests.  The thousands of donated items are then received, sorted and distributed by volunteers at an off site location.

Beekman says the agency had reliable, donated space for the past several years during the month of December when the program is in full swing, but that space is no longer available.  She estimates the agency needs at least 5,000 square feet of heated, lighted and accessible space before it can begin determining how many families it can serve this year.

"Operation Sleighbells is the program upon which FCS was founded," Beekman says. "It traces its roots to 1909 when a group of Long Branch community leaders committed their personal resources to purchase toys for impoverished children at Christmastime. We are hopeful that same spirit of compassion and generosity will prevail so that all children, regardless of income and resources, are able to enjoy a holiday season."

For more information about Operation Sleighbells and how you can help, contact the agency at 732-222-9111 or visit the FCS website at http://fcsmonmouth.org.