EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - On Monday, December 13th, fifty representatives of Summit High School filed onto a bus going to the Meadowlands Racetrack. They were headed to the Annual Children’s Holiday Party hosted by the NJAA (New Jersey Apartment Association).
For the past thirteen years, the NJAA hosts this event for children from inner cities in North Jersey such as Irvington, Jersey City, and Newark. Nearly 1,000 kids gather in the main level of the racetrack and come together to celebrate the holidays. Each side is separated by age; ages 5-7 on the left and 7 and up are on the right. The students range in grade levels from kindergarten to fourth grade.
In Summit, the student council and key clubs run the event, known as “Toys for Tots” throughout the high school. All students and teachers are invited to donate gifts to this charity, but unfortunately not all students can attend. Invitations are first extended to all members of the council and the school’s service club and the first fifty to return their field trip slips are granted permission to attend. Student Council Advisor Winnie Caetta chaperoned the event along with three other teacher volunteers: Frank Baragona, Mary Pat Coliccchio, and Christopher Freisen.
Upon arrival, the children are greeted by high school volunteers dressed up in Santa hats, vests, and some in full body character costumes. They are directed to their tables where they can color pages and eat snacks. Each side was staffed with a DJ and professional dancers. Two tables in the center of the room had balloon animals and face-painting kits.
After a long day of dancing, playing, and eating, each child walked through the “toy line” where they could pick a present of their choice to take home with them that day. Event coordinator, Casey O’Brien, said, “For many of these children, this is the only present they receive all year.”
On top of the thrill of receiving an early Christmas present, these kids were so excited to hang out and dance with the high school students. O’Brien added, “The event is made possible by all of our volunteers, most importantly the student volunteers. They play a major role in the party.”
The high school kids converse and dance with the children, help them color and eat, paint their faces, and ultimately enable them to more fully enjoy their time at the holiday party. O’Brien calls the one-on-one interaction with the kids, “priceless.” She thanked the many high school students that volunteered their day to make a difference in the lives of the underprivileged children and, at the conclusion of the event, was proud to state that, “the 950 children who attended all left with smiling faces.”