NEWTON, NJ – Trick or Treaters had not yet made the rounds and the Thanksgiving turkey had not been stuffed but it was Christmas at Project Self Sufficiency.  The annual Season of Hope kick off event brought out a crowd to help get everyone into the spirit of giving, “the season of unexpected miracles,” Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self Sufficiency said in her welcoming remarks.

“Project Self Sufficiency is a magical place at Christmas,” Sussex County Freeholder Deputy Director Sylvia Petillo said.  “The impossible becomes possible, the unattainable becomes attainable.  It is an incredible place of promise where people feel valued.”

The organization joins with partners throughout the county to collect toys and gifts for the annual toy shop.  Parents are then able to select gifts for their children in an atmosphere that treats them with dignity. Monetary donations are also gladly accepted. 

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Dolores and Jim Fernandez, Chairs of the Season of Hope Toy Drive spoke of the gifts of giving as well as the impact of being able to receive.  The Toy Shop helps to provide “lasting happy memories.” 
“Parents are given the opportunity to have some of their burden lifted,” Fernandez said.  “People who volunteer and donate can find fulfillment in their generosity.”

The ladies from Harmony in Motion provided seasonal sounds to create the festive atmosphere of Christmas.

The President of the Sussex County Superintendent announced the Stuff the Stocking competition among schools 36 in Sussex and Northern Warren County. 

“Schools compete for the trophy but it’s bigger than the trophy,” Sussex County Round Table President and Lafayette Superintendent Jennifer Cenatiempo said.  She said she knows she can get help for a family with a call to Project Self Sufficiency.

Last year the trophy was won by Pope John Middle School and North Warren, according to Andrea Romano Superintendent of Sussex County Educational Services.

Nicholas Pachnos, Director of Frelinghuysen Emergency Management and member of the Green Township Fire Department knows about sharing the joy of Christmas, having played Santa for 22 years riding on a fire truck.

“Fire departments know how to help communities,” Pachnos said.  Each fire house in Sussex and Warren County will be asked to collect toys and be toy drop off centers.

Newton Chief Michael Richards, President of the Sussex County Chiefs Association said they help provide security for the event.  He said he was “proud of how we work together; local police, New Jersey State Police and the Sheriff’s officers.”

Richards shared a story that resonated with him last year.  An officer’s first impression when seeing the toy shop for the first time was “Wow, I think my mom could have used this when we were kids.”

Kathy Rathbone talked about Pass It Along’s Note in a Coat initiative that is collecting gently used coats from around the county to be distributed at the Top Shop.

Toys for Tots partners with Project Self Sufficiency to distribute toys collected through their efforts as well.  Major Luke Pernotto said the Marines Toys for Tots has distributed 115,000 toys to 1,000 children in northern New Jersey over the years.  He explained there are 10 Marines stationed here, so they partner with local organizations to server the seven counties they cover. 

“All toys and funds collected locally stay local,” Pernotto said.  He said 97% of donated funds to back to communities as toys. 

Pernotto noted First Sergeant Eduardo Ascencio earned Campaign Coordinator of the Year for last year’s Toys for Tots efforts.

Albert Mellini President of Military Transport Association said the Santa Train supports the Marines efforts working with Picatinny Arsenal and Stewart Air National Guard Base.  Mellini said there are 22 stops on the Santa Train.  The six car train collected 27,500 toys last year over three weekends, with 19,000 going to Project Self Sufficiency.

This year fewer toys will be coming to Project Self Sufficiency from the Santa Train, Mellini said. Lists with suggested donations are posted on the Project Self Sufficiency website. 

Santa will make stops in Sparta and Vernon this year. The big man will be stopping in Sparta on November 30 at 3:30 p.m. 

Other supporters at the event included Laura Blackburn from First Hope Bank.  Each branch of First Hope Bank has toy collection boxes.

Newton Town Manager Thomas S Russo Jr., member of the Board of Directors Lorraine Parker and her husband George Parker and Sussex County Chamber of Commerce President Tammy Horsfield helped to launch the Season of Hope.

Assemblyman Hal Wirths and Freeholder George Graham, a.k.a. Santa,  thanked Project Self Sufficiency and the many volunteers for the work that is done.

Willy Tolba presented a proclamation from Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill. 

Families wishing to participate in the Toy Shop must register in person at the Project Self-Sufficiency Campus:

  • Monday, November 18 – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Tuesday, November 19 – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Wednesday, November 20 – 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, November 21- 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Friday, November 22- 10 a.m .to 4 p.m.
  • Saturday, November 23 – 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

To register families must bring proof of residence in Sussex or Norther Warren County and verification for each child.  Income documentation will not be required but registrants should be prepared to supply monthly income and sources of income.  Project Self Sufficiency said information collected for registration will be “100% confidential.”

Donations of new, unwrapped gifts will be accepted at Project Self Sufficiency at 127 Mill Street in Newton during the month of December: Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Fridays 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Delores Fernandez quoted the prayer of Saint Francis, “It is in giving that we receive.”

“I’ve seen what a difference it makes,” Richards said.