NEWTON, NJ – The leaves are still on the trees but it’s time to think about snowflakes and Santa at Project Self Sufficiency.  Santa arrived for a festive morning in front of the Project Self Sufficiency facilities to kick off the Season of Hope Toy Drive and let people know donations are needed immediately.

Santa joined Freeholder Director Sylvia Petillo, Senator Steve Oroho, Executive Director Deborah Berry-Toon, Season of Hope Honorary Chairs Blake and Cathy Ellman, Fredon School District Superintendent Matthew Beck and Marines First Sgt Brian Dillon and Tyler Tallman, board members Lorraine Parker and Bruce Tomlinson

Katlyn Rose of the Bill Wright School of Music performed holiday songs on the keyboard.

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It was a smaller event than in past years because of the pandemic but for the same reason the need is greater.

“Lock downs have led to unprecedented loss of jobs and fractured families,” the Elman’s said.

The Season of Hope Toy Drive is already collecting gifts throughout the county including at First Hope Bank locations, working toward a goal of 50,000 toys they said.

“It’s going to be a tremendous accomplishment,” Oroho said. “But I know Project Self Sufficiency will get it done… We’ve had to be adjustable, just look at today’s event.”

Petillo said, “It’s all about giving.  Giving helps you appreciate what you have.  Giving is about love. Love is the great equalizer.”

The Santa Train has been canceled this year but Toys for Tots is a go,” Dillon said.  “There are still disadvantaged children.”  He said they are “still working on how it is all going to work.”0

Donations to Toys for Tots at Picatinny Arsenal are being accepted through December 12.  As they did last year, Project Self Sufficiency will be going to the arsenal and pick up the toys for their toy shop.

Beck said schools in Sussex County are once again participating in the Stuff the Stocking contest.  Last year approximately 20,000 toys were donated from the schools.  To kick start this season he gave a check for $500 from the Sussex County Superintendents’ Roundtable. 

Participating schools include: Byram Lakes Elementary School, Byram Intermediate School, Central Elementary, Florence Burd, Fredon Township Elementary, Glen Meadows, Green Hills, Hardyston, Lafayette Elementary, Lounsberry Hollow. Newton High School, North Warren, Pope John Middle School, Reverend Brown, Rolling Hills, Sparta Middle School, Sussex Technical School, Valley Road, Vernon Township High School, White Township Consolidated.

Schools that participate are not only doing good by collecting toys for children in need, the friendly competition includes a $250 scholarship to the school’s student activity fund and a big trophy to the school with the largest donation. Pope John Middle School won in 2019 with 958 toys.

“Let’s do it to bring back some normalcy,” Beck said relaying a conversation he had with Executive County Superintendent Rosalie Lamonte when deciding to participate.

Berry-Toon suggested gift cards would be especially helpful this year “because soft items can’t be sanitized.” She said due to public health guidelines all donated items have to be sanitized so soft and fabric covered items including stuffed animals cannot be accepted.  Typically parents and caregivers would be able to come to Project Self Sufficiency to select toys and coats.  This year they will not be allowed inside the building.

She explained there will be more “silent-auction” type raffles for the larger ticket items and that the program is “changing every day.”

Each year musician from throughout the county perform holiday music every hour.  This year they will be video recorded and played for the families while they are waiting outside for the items to be brought to them.   

Berry-Toon said this is the 13th year for the Season of Hope.  It is the eighth year Project Self Sufficiency has partnered with the Marines Toys for Tots.  Organizations and groups including veterans, youth groups, scouting troops, mom’s groups, churches and individuals all donate to the Season of Hope on behalf of children and teens in need in Sussex County.

Donations can be made through December 14. Toys need to be new and unwrapped. 

“I love the title ‘Season of hope,’” Oroho said. “It’s what we all need.  People need to know they can become independent. Children will be taught those lessons.”

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