SPARTA, NJ - The Sparta community is once again rallying behind the Tilly’s Kids Organization run out of Newark in an attempt to bring holiday gifts to 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 the 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 generally 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.

This year, Tilly’s Kids has an ambitious agenda to reach children at thirteen schools, several churches, multiple homeless shelters, and the Beth Israel Hospital’s special unit for children who have suffered abuse or neglect. In addition, a special delivery will go to NICU babies and moms on Christmas Eve at Beth Israel hospital.

In October, Catherine Wille, health and physical Education teacher at Sparta High School initiated a District wide dress-down Friday for the staff at all five Sparta school buildings. The teachers and staff donated $500 that went towards the purchase of warm knit hats and gloves, purchased at wholesale prices from a New York City supplier.

In November, Denise Garagliano, fifth grade teacher at Helen Morgan School coordinated a successful toy drive. Ms. Garagliano, with the support of HMS Principal, Doug Layman, has been instrumental in conducting the toy drive for the past several years, first at Sparta Middle School and now at Helen Morgan Elementary. She will be on hand later this month along with her two young children to pass out the gifts in Newark.

In December, three of the high school team sports banquets held ball collections. The boys and girls Sparta High School soccer teams collected new soccer balls. They will be donated to third grade boys and girls at an elementary in Newark. In a long standing tradition, the SHS football team donated new footballs and basketballs for older seventh and eighth grade boys.

Many area families and businesses run their own collections from appeals to neighbors and friends. The Faria family in Sparta runs a collection from Inspire Fitness. The Ryan family is collecting hats and gloves at St. Kateri parish. The Zugelder family has a Youcare crowdfunding webpage and proceeds go to the purchase of hundreds of board games. The Target Corporation supplies gift cards that go towards the purchase of toys. Dr. Tracey Mendel, Chiropractor in Sparta, collects at her office. Pass-it-along in Sparta collects donations and provides volunteers to deliver.

The Gennat family collects books from an elementary schools and youngest son, Paul Gennat, along with his friend, Jimmy Hyland raised $80 to purchase new books for donation. Lady of the Lakes Catholic Church in Sparta also donates books from their carnival in the summer. The Kittatinny HS library, in going through a redesign, donated cartons of books through resident Dr. Carol Fishbone, a teacher at the school.  

Pattie Brown, a Sparta Township employee, is donating handmade blankets to the NICU babies, Mary Bernat of Sparta, along with other local residents, have been furiously sewing and knitting hats.

These are literally a few of many examples of the outpouring of support in the community.

Gifts are hand delivered by a small army of Tilly’s Kids volunteers 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 volunteers, this date is reserved all year round and becomes an experience they can’t easily explain without a huge smile and a touching story.  Pastor Tilly observes that ‘as the different testimonies are shared, tears of gratitude are shed with emotions of love deeply felt.”

Every year, there are seniors at Sparta High School that chose to write their college essay on this experience. For some, this volunteer experience was a defining moment in their lives.

Former Sparta HS graduate and current Penn State student, Teddy Fischer ended his college essay with this:

“A better future can start with just the gift of a ball, a circle with no end, and endless possibilities to bounce around.”

  • To learn more about how you can help, please visit this website:
  • Items that are still needed are board games, new stuffed animals, boxes of crayons, children’s hats and gloves and new sports balls.

Peggy Fischer is the local Tilly’s Kids Christmas Outreach Coordinator.