WEST ORANGE, NJ — In addition to the 97,459 people who visited the 11th annual Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular at Turtle Back Zoo in 2017, more than 11 tons of non-perishable food, clothing and toys were collected for those in need.

In all, the collection yielded 187 bags of new toys, 334 bags of winter coats and clothing, and 22,543 pounds of non-perishable food -- almost four tractor-trailer loads, shared Dan Goldsmith, who organized the massive collection effort.

Goldsmith, who is a Life Scout with Boy Scout Troop 60 of South Orange and Maplewood, coordinated the collection as part of his Eagle Scout project. "I coordinated all of the volunteers and collection of food, of winter clothing, toys and used eyeglasses on Friday to Sunday nights between November 17, 2017 to December 31, 2017 and on weeknights between December 8, 2017 and January 1, 2018," said Goldsmith.

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"You hear stories about a lot of less fortunate people now-a-days, and when I heard about them I thought this would be a great idea for an Eagle Scout project," said Goldsmith.

Goldsmith explained that multiple groups provided just under 1,700 service hours helping with the collection at the zoo, with volunteer groups that included Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturers, Girl Scouts (Daisies, Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, Seniors and Ambassadors),  Explorers, Fraternities, Sororities, Elks, South Mountain YMCA, West Essex YMCA, Togetherhood, Teen Leaders Interact Club, Rotary, Rotaract Club, Kiwanis, Key Club, school honor societies, B.P. Service Association, West Orange Junior ROTC, Morristown Neighborhood House, Maplewood Civic Association, and New Jersey Recreation and Parks Association. In addition to these groups, many families, friends and individuals helped lend a hand collecting, packing the items, sorting them into bins, and then puting them into bags into the box truck for transport.

This was the eighth year that visitors to the Holiday Lights Spectacular were asked to make a donation to help the less fortunate, and donations collected over the years have amounted to more than 78 tons of non-perishable food, 339,630 toys and 17,968 winter coats.

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., said it was humbling to see the large number of items dropped off at the Holiday Lights Spectacular to assist the less fortunate.

“These donations show the generous spirit and caring that exists in our community and certainly helped make a difference during the holiday season to those who need assistance,” he said. “We offered free admission to the Holiday Lights as a way to give back to our residents and make the event available to everyone, and we thank our visitors for their extraordinary generosity to help the less fortunate.”

The items collected were donated to:

  • Community Food Bank of New Jersey
  • Elmwood United Presbyterian Church in East Orange
  • Essex County Sheriff’s Office Toy Drive
  • Foster and Adoptive Family Services in Monmouth Junction
  • Iglesia Cristiana Emanuel in Newark
  • Ivy Hill Elementary School Kid’s Closet in Newark
  • Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter, Living Logos Christian Assembly in Newark
  • Newark/Bloomfield Elks
  • NJPAC Toy and Coat Drive to benefit La Casa De Don Pedro in Newark
  • East Orange YMCA
  • United Baptist Church Clothing Ministry in Elizabeth
  • Willing Heart Community Center in Newark.

About 50 animal and holiday-themed figures lit up the winter night in Turtle Back Zoo and the surrounding Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex. More than one million lights illuminated figures of giraffes, bears, tigers and elephants, along with holiday lights designed to look like wooden soldiers, stars and winter scenes.

The Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular was sponsored by Covanta Energy, PSE&G, the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Parks Foundation.

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