This year’s Season of Hope Toy Drive started with a challenge to individuals, schools and businesses serving Sussex and Northern Morris and Warren Counties to collect enough toys by mid-December to enable thousands of children to have a memorable and happy holiday.  Holiday carols were provided by local a cappella group Harmony in Motion.

 The toy drive is a joint effort which is driven and coordinated by Project Self-Sufficiency, along with its partners First Hope Bank, Gravity DesignWorks, 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, Shop Rite, Sparta Train Station, Stocker Bus Company, the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce, Sussex County Community College, 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 to families in need during mid-December.

Project Self-Sufficiency Board of Directors members Dolores and Jim Fernandez are serving as the honorary chairpersons of this year’s Season of Hope Toy Drive.

“When asked about the importance of the Project Self-Sufficiency’s Season of Hope Toy Shop, three things came to mind,” explained Dolores Fernandez.  “First is the impact these gifts have on their recipients. We are not only providing toys and other gifts for the children we are providing lasting happy memories that are so important for the developmental wellness of all individuals. Second, the parents and caregivers who attend the toy shop and make their selections from thousands of donated items are given the opportunity to have some of their burdens lifted. They can feel a sense of pride and joy by being able to provide their young families with gifts they might otherwise find inaccessible.  Lastly, those individuals who donate their time, talent and treasure to making this incredible event happen can find fulfillment in their generosity … for, as it is said in the Prayer of St. Francis, ‘It is in giving that we receive.’ We call that a Win Win Win!”

The annual Season of Hope Toy Drive has served thousands of children in northwestern New Jersey for many years.  The initiative solicits donations from individuals, businesses, civic organizations, schools, youth groups, athletic teams and other groups throughout November and early December. Area elementary schools, middle schools and high schools will once again be invited to participate in a competitive “Stuff the Stocking” campaign; 35 schools have registered to date, exceeding the 2018 total of 31.

“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,” noted Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency.  “The Season of Hope Toy Drive directly benefits Sussex and Northern Morris and 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.”

Sussex County Freeholder Deputy Director Sylvia Petillo has staunchly supported the Season of Hope Toy Drive year after year.  “Be a living example of ‘Love’ by supporting the Season of Hope Toy Drive,” she implored attendees.  “Every gift brings the promise of hope and puts a smile on a child’s face.”

This year, local fire departments are stepping up to collect toys during their holiday events.  Green Township Fire Department member Nick Pachnos is coordinating the effort.  “As organizations that are used to helping the public, area volunteer fire departments have shown great interest in acting as drop off points for collecting toys.  Many are combining these efforts with their annual Breakfast with Santa or similar holiday programs.”  A list of participating fire departments is available at www.projectselfsufficiency.org.

Mike Richards, Newton Chief of Police, said, “I am involved with several organizations in Sussex County, and I often hear people say that they wished that such programs or organizations existed back when they were having trouble.  They say this because it would have helped, it would have reduced the stress on their family, and because it may have prevented something worse from happening. For years, I have been coming to Project Self-Sufficiency to assist during their toy shop and I have seen the many people from across the county who have been helped.  From my nearly 30-year law enforcement career, I also know many of the hard-working families who are being served.  It is clear to me that the efforts of the staff and volunteers at Project Self Sufficiency are making a meaningful difference to them, and the gesture of giving is both symbolic of this season and it is inspiring to all who contribute to make the toy drive so successful each year.”

A wish list has been assembled for those who want to contribute.  Items needed for teens include electronics, such as calculators, watches, portable music devices, computer games and software, popular CD’s; make-up, perfume, scented lotions, hair dryers, hair straighteners, curling irons; jewelry and accessories; sports equipment and team gear, such as t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats; popular books; clothing and pajamas; musical instruments and backpacks.

Items sought for younger children include books; Legos, blocks and building toys; action figures; DVDs and CDs; 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. – 7:00 p.m., Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Donations are requested by Wednesday, December 16th 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 844-807-3500 or visit www.projectselfsufficiency.org.

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