The annual Season of Hope Toy Drive was launched by Project Self-Sufficiency and a consortium of businesses, schools, and social service agencies today. The massive undertaking aims to provide gift cards and new, unwrapped toys to parents and caregivers of more than 2,000 children and teens in the New Jersey counties of Sussex and Northern Warren. The toy drive is a joint effort which is driven and coordinated by Project Self-Sufficiency, along with its partners D & K Services, First Hope Bank, Gravity DesignWorks, Intercar Mercedes Benz, Max 106.3, Newton Police Department, Off Shore Marine, Pass it Along, The Printing Center, Selective Insurance Company of America, Shop Rite, Stocker Bus Company, the Sussex and Warren County School Districts, the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce, Sussex County Community College, Sussex Honda, Sussex Technical School, the United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots, WNNJ 103.7, and WSUS 102.3 to benefit local families in need. Donations are needed immediately.
“We are searching for individuals, youth groups, social service agencies, scouting troop, moms’ groups, churches and other organizations which will step in and coordinate gift card and toy drives on behalf of the low-income families in our area,” noted Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency. “The Season of Hope Toy Drive directly benefits Sussex and Northern Warren County families in need. The items collected here stay right here. It truly is a way for neighbors to help each other during this extraordinarily challenging time.”
The Season of Hope Toy Shop benefits from the talents of hundreds of musicians each year; normally, individuals and ensembles perform holiday tunes in multiple locations every hour throughout the duration of the toy shop. Due to current public health restrictions, patrons will not be allowed inside the buildings this year, so a video of performances by the same ensembles and individuals has been compiled and will be played while shoppers wait outside for their items to be provided to them. Music for the kick-off press conference was provided by Kate Rose of the Bill Wright School of Music.
“At this time each year, I am reminded of why this is the best place to live in of our State of New Jersey. I am proud that I have been part of the rewarding and kind-hearted Season of Hope campaign for a decade now,” said New Jersey State Senator Steve Oroho, who made an appearance at the kick-off press conference today. “This year, through the care, commitment, and dedication of people across our area, we will help make the holiday season a happier one for more than 2,000 children. With all that is happening due to the coronavirus pandemic, including many parents who have lost their job or lost many hours of work, I hope more and more people who are able can contribute this year to put a smile on the faces of our children and their parents.”
Sussex County Freeholder Director Sylvia Petillo added, "The Holidays always start early at Project Self-Sufficiency as they prepare to transform their facility into Santa's Toy Shop filled with gifts for children and teens. Their outreach to our community makes Christmas come alive and touches the hearts of so many people."
The annual Season of Hope Toy Drive has served thousands of children in northwestern New Jersey for many years. The initiative solicits donations from individuals, businesses, civic organizations, schools, youth groups, athletic teams and other groups throughout November and early December. Area elementary schools, middle schools and high schools have been invited to participate in a competitive “Stuff the Stocking” campaign; 19 schools have registered to date, a significant decline from previous years which organizers attribute to the impact of the on-going public health crisis.
“The Stuff the Stocking Contest is an annual tradition that benefits many families throughout Sussex County. In a year that has brought much change to many of our families, the Stuff the Stocking tradition has become even more valuable,” noted Sussex County Superintendent Roundtable President and Fredon Chief School Administrator Matthew Beck. “Our school communities believe that helping one another is important throughout the year and especially during the holiday season. The schools across Sussex and Northern Warren Counties look forward to continuing this annual tradition and bringing joy to our families in need.”
“The pandemic has upended business as usual for our day-to-day operations and the Season of Hope Toy Drive has also had to be significantly modified in order to comply with social distancing guidelines and other factors,” explains Project Self-Sufficiency Executive Director Deborah Berry-Toon. “Traditionally, the toy shop is operated during a 2-day period in mid-December and welcomes the assistance of hundreds of volunteers, law enforcement and musicians as we help thousands of parents select toys for their children. Under the current circumstances, the toy shop will now have to operate during November and December and public health guidelines prohibit the presence of numerous staff and volunteers on site. Therefore, we are asking that donations of funds, gift cards, and toys be received by early November.”
Project Self-Sufficiency Board of Directors member Blake Ellman and his wife, Cathy, are serving as the honorary chairpersons of this year’s Season of Hope Toy Drive. “The Season of Hope Toy Shop has traditionally given parents a dignified way of providing holiday gifts for their children when they may be experiencing financial hardship,” explained Ellman. “The pandemic has caused catastrophic economic fallout for many families in our area and Cathy and I are committed to helping to make their holidays a little brighter this year.”
Due to public health guidelines, all donated items must be sanitized prior to distribution to families in need. Therefore, organizers are suggesting that gift cards be donated in lieu of traditional toys; soft and fabric-covered items such as stuffed animals and clothing cannot be accepted.
Donated items can be dropped off at Project Self-Sufficiency, 127 Mill Street in Newton, Monday – Thursday, from 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. For information about the Season of Hope Holiday Toy Drive, call Project Self-Sufficiency at 973-940-3500 or 844-807-3500 or visit www.projectselfsufficiency.org.