It was held at a new location but things were just as festive and fun during the 18th annual Holiday Party of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ocean County.
More than 200 people enjoyed the celebration held on Dec. 16 at the Days Hotel and while Santa Claus may have been the big star in the eyes of the many children present, he had a lot of help in providing the magic that took place.
The organization’s director, Madaline Rice, said that each child receives three presents from Santa and “they enjoy balloon art, face painting, decorated cookies and a wonderful lunch. We also have DJ music.”
“We want to thank the management and staff of the Days Hotel for everything they did and the Ocean County Women Realtors who wrapped the toys. Local businesses donated the toys and gift cards,” Rice said.
Days Hotel Banquet Manager Erik Schacht said he and his staff were very happy to be a part of the event. “It is a very good cause.”
Jackson Councilman Scott Martin observed his 18th year with the event. He said his role was to help raise money for the gifts for the children, as well as entertainment that was provided during the party, which included a magician and much more.
Martin said the celebration grew out of a small party with about 30 children and has grown tremendously over the years.
As per tradition, the party featured several visiting characters, one of whom was of course Santa Claus. A rather animated Gingerbread Man helped get the crowd excited before Kris Kringle’s arrival.
“It makes you feel warm inside,” Martin said amid a flurry of activity that included children enjoying the balloon animal creations made by Rockin Roxanne’s Party Magic, cotton candy and DJ Justin Love’s music who provided many popular holiday tunes that added to the atmosphere.
“We make this an experience, not just a party where you eat and receive a present and go home,” Martin said. He noted that another tradition of the event for him was his daughters’ involvement each year. “My wife and I have always taught to give back during the holidays. They are fortunate to have two parents and some of these children don’t have that.”
Rice said the organization wants to bring more awareness of a scholarship program offered by the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ocean County to Ocean County College sponsored by an anonymous donor. “The program is for juniors and seniors and they get to tour OCC during the spring and attend class in September.”
She also noted that beyond the day’s party the organization adopted several families. “We collaborate with others for the Need We Feed program and we had 60 families and our volunteers helped with this. Today’s event is all about making the children happy.”
Rice added that the organization currently has 150 “littles” and there is a waiting list for others. “We want to grow more but each staff member can only have so many cases and we have to raise money to hire more staff.”
“We are working with the Toms River Police Department as well as with Lakewood and Brick for our Bigs in Blue program. We are looking to get funding for Lakewood to join,” Rice said. The program includes getting police officers involved with the organization.
“We collaborate with a lot of nice people. We have a staff of six, and two part timers. We have many board members and volunteers here today,” Rice said.
Jodi Grinwald, president and CEO of Zzak G Applaud Our Kids Foundation Inc. spoke about her organization’s mission during the event. The Foundation provides opportunities for children to creatively express themselves by taking ongoing lessons in various performing arts.
The Barnegat-based Foundation provides funding for children ages 7-18 to take ongoing lessons in vocal instruction, dance, acting, and instrumental music from September through June. “We build partnerships with local schools, as well as other community organizations, to identify students who meet the financial needs requirements. Students interested in applying for a scholarship will complete a simple application and must meet the financial needs requirements,” Grinwald said.
For information about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ocean County contact Program Manager Cheryl Polo at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 732-505-3400. For information about Zzak G Applaud Our Kids Foundation visit applaudourkids.org or call 848-333-2819.
Contributors to the event include: Senator Chris Connors, Assemblyman Greg McGuckin, Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, Assemblyman Ron Dancer, Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher, Jackson Development Company, Quality Medical, Owen Little & Associates, T & M Associates, Remington & Vernik Engineers, JDM Planning Associates, Kelaher, Van Dyke & Moriarty, CME Associates.