Toy drive kicks off; holiday gifts for families in need

| 01 Nov 2017 | 02:13

By Laurie Gordon
— United States Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Clayton didn't want to use the microphone at Friday's Project Self-Sufficiency Season of Hope kick off. He addressed the audience with his own voice...and from his heart.
“In 2014 my son was diagnosed with brain cancer,” he said. “When Christmas came around in 2015, we didn't have the time to go Christmas shopping. That's when the Marines stepped in and invited us to come to their Toys for Tots warehouse and pick some things out. That's what the Season of Hope is all about. It's about community and helping people when they are in need.”
Sergeant Clayton's son, eight-year-old Joseph Douglas Clayton, passed away after a courageous 14-month battle with brain cancer two months after that Christmas. His memory remains strong as does that of how Toys for Tots helped the family. This year, Sergeant Clayton is heading up the Toys for Tots coalition of nine active duty Marines at Picatinny Arsenal, which provides thousands of toys to Project Self-Sufficiency each year.
“We are eternally grateful for our wonderful partnership with the Marines,” said Deborah Berry-Toon, Project Self-Suficiency's Executive Director. “We could never provide this many toys to the community without them.”
Project Self-Sufficiency's Season of Hope is a great example of community coming together to make sure children have gifts for Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanzaa. The toy drive is a joint effort which is driven and coordinated by Project Self-Sufficiency, along with its partners The Chatterbox Drive In, First Hope Bank, iHeartMedia, Inc., Intercar Mercedes Benz, The New Jersey Herald, Off Shore Marine, Pass it Along, The Printing Center, Selective Insurance Company of America, Service Electric Broadband Cable, Stocker Bus Company, the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce, Sussex Honda, and the United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots to benefit local families in need. The group aims to gather thousands of new and unwrapped items to distribute during mid-December.
With Friday's kick off came the challenge to individuals, schools and businesses serving Sussex and Northern Warren County to collect enough toys by mid-December to enable thousands of children to have a memorable and happy holiday.
“We want the community to know we really care about them,” said Berry-Toon. “We also want to demystify reaching out for help.” She added, “We are searching for individuals, youth groups, social service agencies, scouting troop, moms groups, churches and other organizations which will step in and coordinate toy drives on behalf of the low-income families in our area. 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 a difficult time of the year.”
As New Jersey State Senator Steve Oroho (R-Sussex) entered the room prior to the kick off, he was immediately taken with the festive holiday music being played by Katie Pachnos on the piano. “If this wonderful holiday music doesn't set the mood for what is going on here, I don't know what does," Oroho said. "I literally have goose bumps thinking about all of the great things this agency does for people in need, especially during this Season of Hope.”
Oroho later addressed the audience: “It is truly amazing how the Season of Hope Toy Drive ignites the giving spirit for which our community is well known. Project Self Sufficiency does such a marvelous job of making us aware of the importance of lending a helping hand to those who are struggling, and trying hard each and every day to create a financially secure and independent life for themselves and their family. The Season of Hope Toy Drive is a perfect opportunity for our community to participate in making this season a special one for every child, and at the same time providing us all an opportunity to help make a difference, just by providing a gift or a donation. It is my privilege to take part in opening the door to a season filled with giving, sharing and caring.”
Project Self-Sufficiency Board of Directors member The Honorable Lorraine Parker, J.A.D. (retired) and her husband, Tim Parker, will be serving as co-chairpeople of this year’s Season of Hope Toy Drive.
Judge Parker said, “More than 2,000 children and teens received holiday gifts in 2016 from the Season of Hope Toy Shop. Those kids would not have had those gifts if the Sussex County community did not care. Again in 2017, we come together to ensure that every child has holiday gifts and that no child feels left out of the holiday celebration.”
The Season of Hope Toy Drive also entails a friendly competition among area schools. For the third year in a row, Green Hills School was the champion last year, collecting the most toys to donate to Project Self-Sufficiency. Fredon School and Newton tied for second and Byram was third. The winner gets to keep a huge trophy in the school office for the entire year.
Roget Jinks, superintendent of the Hardyston Middle School and current president of the Sussex County Superintendent's Roundtable said, “It's a great friendly rivalry among the schools. The Season of Hope Toy Drive has become one of the most rewarding programs in which students in northern Warren and Sussex Counties can involve children in making a difference in the lives of our local families in need. With a friendly spirit of competition among the schools to see which one will be the next trophy winner, children learn the significance their generosity can have in bringing joy to others.”
In addition to the local toy drives, on December 2nd, Operation Toy Train, operated by the Military Transport Association, will make 18 stops to collect toys throughout the area, filling a box car with gifts for children. The train's last stop is in Sparta at the Sparta Train Station on Station Road, at about 4:30 p.m., when the toys will be unloaded onto trucks to be taken to Project Self-Sufficiency. The U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program coordinates that effort.
"Our mission is simple. To collect toys. As many as we can get," said Albert Mellini, president of the Military Transport Association.
Sussex County Freeholder George Graham addressed the group dressed as Santa Claus to underscore the importance of the effort.
“I'm looking out into this audience of Santas in front of me,” he said. “Everybody's heart is outside their chest. Let's make this the best year ever.”
The kick off ended, appropriately, with Christmas carols sung by Harmony in Motion. The group is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of women's a cappella singing through quality performance and education. Their final number said it all.
“We need a little Christmas, right this very minute.”
For the children who otherwise would not have toys on Christmas morning, Project Self-Sufficiency makes it a reality.
Items sought for younger children include books; Legos, blocks and building toys; action figures; DVD’s and CD’s; electronic learning games; infant toys; multicultural dolls and toys; Play Doh; trading and collectible cards; matchbox cars; and trendy toys. In addition, donation of gift cards, wrapping paper, gift bags, gift boxes and stocking stuffers are always appreciated. Gift items can be dropped off at Project Self-Sufficiency, 127 Mill Street in Newton, Monday – Thursday, from 9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Donations are requested by Wednesday, December 13th in order to allow ample time for the items to be distributed to needy families. For information about the Season of Hope Holiday Toy Drive, call Project Self-Sufficiency at 973-940-3500 or visit