NEWARK, NJ — Holiday parties are in full swing, and the cheer was spread to St. John's Roman Catholic Church on Tuesday afternoon, where hundreds of Essex County's most vulnerable citizens enjoyed hot meals, gift bags and live music.

Thanks to the Eatontown-based non-profit, Holiday Express, about 500 less fortunate people were gifted a holiday lunch party and walked away with bags full of toiletries, blankets and sweets.

"It's going very well so far," said Pat Wolton, Holiday Express board of trustees member and event co-manager. "People lined up hours before we set up because it is such a well-known event." 

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A long line wrapped around a large white tent in the church's parking lot. As guests entered, they were seated and served a hot meal catered by McCloone's Restaurants. 

Restaurateur and musician Tim McCloone is also the founder of Holiday Express. He created the idea of offering a live band performance during the nonprofit's events.

Wolton said the nonprofit's mission is to provide a party for those who wouldn't ordinarily have one.

"It's a great day, this is really what the holiday is all about," said Bob Martin, Holiday Express director of development. "This is an amazing collaboration of community members bringing light into people's lives."

Meanwhile, Holiday Express was also hosting a similar party at the same time over at St. Ann's Church in Newark, where an additional several hundred people were served.

"I feel very blessed to be here today, and to enjoy such a festive engagement," said Sharon Evans, Newark citizen.

During the event, a song was dedicated to Barbara Moran, a volunteer who recently passed away. The emcee said "she was a little thing but extremely feisty." Several of the returning guests were familiar with her.

"It was nice, you really go out of y'all way for people. I really enjoyed it," said Jackie Jacobs of East Orange. 

Holiday Express is powered by 1,500 volunteers and relies solely on donations. The nonprofit hosts 100 events across New Jersey each year, mostly during November and December, and assists communities during tragedies.

Wolton said Holiday Express events reach an estimated 27,000 people annually.