SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - The South Plainfield Elks #2298 hosted its annual Breakfast with Santa on Dec. 13 at the New Market Avenue lodge. This year’s event attracted dozens of families and featured a special visitor from the North Pole along with a special donation to the Simmonds family.

Children of all ages had the opportunity to meet and take photos with Santa and families feasted on a breakfast that included pancakes, eggs made to order, French toast, sausage, bacon, home fries, toast, juice and coffee. Members of the Elks lodge prepared and served up over 100 breakfasts this year, with assistance provided by members of the South Plainfield High School Cheerleading Squad, including Alexis Algarin, Cassidy DeGraziano, Jenna Dickerson, Hanna Dunn (and mom, Kelly), McKenzie Larsen, Jessica Ortiz and Rena Voelkel.

Proceeds from various fundraising events run by the Elks throughout the year – including the Breakfast with Santa – enable the non-profit, benevolent organization to help individuals and causes in the community. “We do the best we can to help those who need it,” said Pete Smith, a member of the South Plainfield lodge and past president of the New Jersey State Elks Association.

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At this year’s breakfast,  Exalted Ruler Ray Horvath and Sharon Reuter, a member of the lodge’s Community Welfare Committee, presented Margaret and Mary ‘Katie’ Simmonds of South Plainfield with a check for $1,000. The money will help the family during what has been a difficult time.

In February, Margaret Simmonds was diagnosed with stage 3-breast cancer and, in June, underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. Then, in late October, her husband Robert became extremely ill and, after a lengthy hospital stay, he passed away on Nov. 17. Around this same time, doctors confirmed that Margaret’s cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and  she will start her aggressive radiation treatments later this month.

Katie – who is just 18-years old and an only child– has taken on all medical, emotion and financial responsibilities. For the past nine months, she has been responsible for getting her mother to and from doctors’ appointments and then was charged with handling all of her father’s hospitalization and funeral arrangements. She is also juggling classes at Middlesex Community College and working three part-time jobs to pay for school and help offset household expenses. 

Earlier this month, Reuter, a neighbor of the Simmonds family, brought the idea of helping the family up during an Elks membership meeting. “We voted on it and is passed with our membership agreeing to a generous donation of $1,000,” said Reuter, who lives around the corner from the Simmonds family but wasn't aware of Margaret’s illness or Robert’s passing until she read the Nov. 30 article that appeared in TAPinto South Plainfield. “What Katie and her mom are going through is heartbreaking and we knew we had to do something for them.”

According to Horvath, helping people in need is what the Elks are all about. “People don't realize what the Elks are all about; we are about helping the community. As long as we have the money and can help we will be more than happy to do so,” said Horvath, a member of the South Plainfield lodge for 20 years. “People thing the Elks is a bunch of guys just hanging out. It's nothing like that. The Elks are about giving back to the community, helping families in need, children with special needs, homeless veterans and much more.”

“People think of the Elks as just a social organization but we are totally community-oriented,” added Reuter. “We are the best kept secret in town and we would like to change that.”

Smith said, “We do the best we can to help those who need it and, in this situation, Katie and her mom are community residents in need. We want them to know there are people here who care.”

Derryck White, president of the South Plainfield Borough Council, attended this year’s Breakfast with Santa and had the opportunity to meet Katie and Margaret Simmonds. “This year’s event featured a delicious breakfast, as usual, and Santa Claus, however, for me, the highlight was finally meeting Katie and Margaret Simmonds,” said White. “It was truly a pleasure to meet two extraordinary women who are facing life's challenges with tremendous strength and joy.”

Last month, TAPinto South Plainfield published an article (https://www.tapinto.net/articles/simmonds-family-of-south-plainfield-needs-communi-1) about the Simmonds family and, almost immediately, support starting pouring in. Over the past few weeks, Katie and Margaret have received monetary donations, home-cooked meals, and gift cards to grocery stores and local restaurants. Support has come in from individuals in and around South Plainfield as well as from those who have relocated and many organizations – such as the Elks – and businesses have also stepped in to help.

“The holidays have always been a very special time for us as a family, however, trying to figure out how we were going to make it through this year without a flood of tears is something we were dreading. But the kindness and generosity of our community has been so amazing. We can truly imagine waking up Christmas morning and wanting to face the day,” Margaret Simmonds told TAPinto South Plainfield.

“We are gathering this strength from each of you and thank you does not even come close enough to begin to express how grateful we feel to all of you,” continued Margaret. “The generosity we received is evident in the generous donation from the Elks at the Breakfast with Santa on Sunday. We couldn't be more thankful for the generosity of the community.”

Katie added, “The Elks presented my mom and I with an extremely generous donation. We couldn’t be more thankful to them as well as everyone who has been donating items, money, time and other gifts and for everyone helping. The holidays are quickly approaching and with everyone's generosity, support, love, and prayers we feel so warm in our hearts …”

Katie said she is overwhelmed by the outpouring of support she and her mom have received over the past few weeks and feels there are so many people to thank. “I don't even know where to begin,” she said. “I just want anyone and everyone who has been following our story and who has supported us is any way to know how extremely thankful we are. I don't even have the ability to put it in words. This is more then we could ever ask for.”

Those near or far looking to make a financial donation to the family can also do so through the GoFundMe page established by Katie’s close friend Rosambra Passalacqua. Donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/bn8ucuus. Additionally, anyone looking to donate services or items – meals, gift cards, monetary donations – to the Simmonds family should contact Renee Eggert at (908) 917-9967.