Sussex County Commissioner Sylvia Petillo likened the Season of Hope to the revelation the Grinch.
“And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore,” said Petillo, reading from the Dr. Suess classic. “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
Petillo said the “little bit more” isn’t about opening presents but opening hearts. “It’s about taking care of others and their families,” she said.
The kick-off for Project Self-Sufficiency’s Season of Hope, which collects toys and gifts for kids and teens, was led by executive director Deborah Berry-Toon. The toy drive makes sure struggling families will be able to bring joy to their children this holiday season, whether they celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza.
“Our goals are to get toys under the tree, enable families to experience the joy of the holiday season and show our love for the community,” she said. “We also hope that families who need help see through this event that we’re here and that they can reach out.”
New Jersey State Senator Steve Oroho is a long-time supporter. “Each year during the holidays, the Season of Hope campaign helps bring joy and happiness to thousands of disadvantaged children. I am always pleased to take part in such an enriching and joyful event,” he said. “As we are still dealing with the effects of the pandemic, so too have many children’s lives not returned to what they were in 2019. Because of this, I hope those who are able can contribute this year to bring much good cheer and smiles to many needy children and their families.”
‘A friendly competition’
Gayle Carrick, executive county superintendent of schools, and Mike Ryder, chief school administrator of the Hardyston School District, spoke about the annual Stuff the Stocking competition among area elementary, middle and high schools. Toys are picked up and counted in early December. Twenty nine schools have registered to date.
“It’s a friendly competition,” Ryder said, noting Hardyston’s past victories with a smile. “Lisa (Lisa Pachnos, the publicist for Project Self-Sufficiency) lugs in this enormous trophy and addresses the schools about the importance of gathering as many toys as we can for the Season of Hope Toy Drive. We then go to work and the students are great working to get as many toys as possible. The school with the most gets awarded the trophy for that year.”
First Sergeant Brian Dillon, representing the U.S. Marine Corps, talked about the origin of its Toys for Tots and their involvement, locally, with the Season of Hope.
Then, Berry-Toon revealed a secret. Hiding inside was Harmony in Motion, a group of more than 40 women who had been performing at the event for years. They were truly missed during their Covid-induced absence over the past two years. They paraded out to an ovation and lots of welcome back smiles. The group started with “We Need a Little Christmas,” each member moving to the beat.
It was time for Santa himself to make an appearance.
How you can help
Berry-Toon said Project Self-Sufficiency is looking for individuals, youth groups, social service agencies, scouting troops, moms’ groups, churches, and other organizations to help coordinate gift card and toy drives on behalf of low-income families in the area. The Season of Hope toy drive directly benefits families in need in Sussex and Northern Warren County. “The items collected here stay right here,” she said. “It truly is a way for neighbors to help each other during this extraordinarily challenging time.”
All of the collected toys and gift cards fill the main building on the Project Self-Sufficiency campus. Because of ongoing public health restrictions, patrons will not be allowed inside the buildings this year. Shoppers will wait outside, listening to to livestreamed and previously recorded musical performances, while staff members retrieve the items they’ve requested.
Donated items can be dropped off at Project Self-Sufficiency, 127 Mill St. in Newton, from Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday, 9 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
For information about Season of Hope, call Project Self-Sufficiency at 973-940-3500 or visit projectselfsufficiency.org.