Long Branch, NJ - For more than 100 years, the Family & Children's Service (FCS) Operation Sleighbells program has been granting holiday wishes for thousands of children throughout Monmouth County. The annual holiday gift-giving drive, which began in 1909, seeks to fulfill the wishes of nearly 2,600 children and their families this year by collecting donations of new toys, books, clothing and other needed items and distributing them in time for the holidays. FCS President & CEO Vincent D'Elia says the agency grew out of the very first Operation Sleighbells effort, when a group of Long Branch citizens decided to provide holiday gifts of food, coal, clothes and toys to impoverished children and their families.

Then, just as now, the program relied on the community's participation to succeed.

"For Operation Sleighbells to make a difference in the lives of children, we depend on the goodwill and generosity of our friends and neighbors," says D'Elia. "Their donations of time, money and gifts allow us to continue this important holiday tradition year after year."

This year, Operation Sleighbells received an additional boost from one of its closest neighbors, Monmouth Medical Center. The hospital donated space on its Long Branch campus to serve as Operation Sleighbells' 2010 headquarters. The new space will give FCS volunteers and staff a safe, heated environment in which to sort, pack and distribute the many donated items.

"It is part of the vision for Monmouth Medical Center to provide quality-driven, responsive health care services that meet the needs of the community we serve, and it also is our goal to be a leader in forming collaborative relationships with other providers in service to our community," says Frank J. Vozos, M.D., FACS, executive director of surgeons.

"By working with Family & Children's Service of Monmouth County in support of Operation Sleighbells, we are meeting this goal."

Unlike many other holiday gift-giving programs, Operation Sleighbells addresses the specific wishes of every child. Families are interviewed and the agency is given a list of the ages, size and needs of each child. FCS Manager of Volunteer Services Samantha White says the prolonged recession has resulted in a spike of requests for support.

"Since late August, we have fielded more than 400 calls from parents and custodial grandparents who want their children to be included in this year's drive," says White. "We're hopeful we will find an equal number of families and individuals who are willing to help."

White says there are many ways to contribute to the effort, including:

a.. "Adopting" a family

b.. Donating toys, gifts and clothing for the children or gift cards for some of the older teens

c.. Volunteering to sort and pack gifts In addition, FCS is conducting a holiday coat drive. Donations of coats of all sizes in good condition for men, women and children are appreciated. For more information about Operation Sleighbells and how you can help, contact the agency at 732-222-9111.