SPARTA, NJ - The Sparta School community is once again rallying behind the Tilly’s Kids Organization run out of Newark in an attempt to bring holiday gifts to literally thousands of children living in poverty. In large part, the reason for the success of the Christmas Outreach program is due to the generosity of those affiliated with Sparta schools as well as the entire larger Sparta community.

Donations collected from within the community surpass donations collected from any other locale in New Jersey according to program director, Pastor Tilly Giresi. Tilly’s Kids was recognized by Governor Christie in 2015 and awarded the Governor’s Jefferson Award for best faith based charity.

“The outpouring of the Sparta community's love for the kids in Newark is overwhelmingly generous” Pastor Tilly said.   “Tilly's Kids is so blessed to have this relationship that reaches out to so many in need.”  

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 The organization provides designated children in need, identified primarily through the Newark Public School system, with a gift bag that contains a book, warm hat and gloves, and one or two age appropriate toys such as a board game, puzzle, Legos, doll, craft, matchbox cars, and sports ball.  For many of the children, this gift is the only gift that they will receive at the holidays and upon receiving their gifts, many declare it to be “the best day of my life. “

In November, Sparta High School Principal Janet Ferraro, at the request of senior, Marirose Fischer, helped to coordinate a Dress-down Jeans Day district wide that netted about $500 for the purchase of new hats and gloves.

At Helen Morgan Elementary, fifth grade teacher, Denise Garagliano, conducted a November toy drive for the seventh year in a row. She collected enough toys to fill a minivan. These gifts will go to children at Cleveland Ave elementary school of 500 children that one Sparta group has sponsored for the past seven years.

In a long standing tradition, many of the Sparta High School sports teams collect new sports balls and toys at their end of season banquets. For over ten years, the Sparta High School football players have donated new full-size footballs and basketballs. The donations are crucial in guaranteeing that the older boys at the elementary and middle schools are given exactly what they most appreciate.

“As parents of sons who love sports can attest, a new ball is always a much welcomed gift at the holidays,” organizer Peggy Fischer said.

The Sparta High School girls and boys soccer teams also donate generously at their year-end banquets. The soccer balls collected are donated to third grade boys and girls.

This year, the Sparta High School girls volleyball team donated stuffed animals and board games. The Sparta High School cheerleaders, under the guidance of senior, Kate Nash, collected baby dolls which will be given to four year old girls. Carter Sheridan is collecting from the Sparta High School wrestling team.

Volunteers for Tilly’s Kids collect at various places within Sparta such as the Sparta Athletic Club, Inspire Fitness, Dr. Tracey Mendel’s chiropractic office and Dr. Mike Ryan’s Dental office. Lynn Cohen from Interplay in the Theatre Center in Sparta generously donated new hats and gloves for approximately 300 children and has signed up for another large donation this year.

Pass-it-Along in Sparta is collecting monetary donations that will be used to purchase toys and gifts at Harriet Tubman Elementary of 400 children and at another elementary school, S. 17 Street Elementary, in Newark of nearly 500 children.

Checks can be mailed to : Pass-it-Along, Heron Drive, Sparta, NJ 07871 and tagged “Christmas in the City” fund.

Every year Tilly’s Kids has an ambitious agenda to reach as many children at possible. Last year, children were served at thirteen schools, several churches, multiple homeless shelters and the Beth Israel Hospital’s special unit for children who have suffered abuse or neglect.

Gifts are hand delivered by a small army of Tilly’s Kids volunteers, most of whom have Sparta connections, on select dates in the week approaching Christmas. Delivery day is a magical day for both the recipients and the volunteers who deliver.

For many of the Sparta families, this date is reserved all year round and becomes an experience they can’t easily explain without a huge smile and a touching story.  It is also an experience that has changed how some local families approach the holidays…as givers of hope and encouragement, givers of blessings, and givers of unconditional love for all.

"This is my last year," Fischer said. "I have been involved for nine years now and it’s been a huge blessing for me and for my family. While it’s been a ton of work, we have been privileged to see the best in people and the best in the community. This project is certainly an example of the generous spirit of those who live here and an example of what one community can achieve when so many come together to work for one common goal."

To learn more about the program and how you can help, please visit this website: http://tillyskids.org 

"We are cogs in the wheel of a much larger machine," Fischer said. "That’s the beauty of doing this project."