D'Bella Salon and Operation Jersey Shore Santa want to make sure that children devastated by Sandy will enjoy a bit of hope this holiday season.
"We're targeting those families where we can help make their children's holiday brighter in the midst of all this turmoil," said Robert DeSanto, co-owner of D'Bella.
Operation Jersey Shore Santa was launched only days after Sandy rolled through New Jersey and their volunteers are working to collect toys and clothes for families who may not have the resources to celebrate this year, explained founder Jackie O'Leary of Brick.
O'Leary, a small business owner who operates a party entertainment company for children, had friends and family encouraging her to do a fundraiser for the area. After thinking about the best way to help, O'Leary opted to draw on her ten years of experience running a holiday toy drive with St. Justin's Church in Toms River. She ran the idea by some friends a week and a half ago, and the project quickly gained momentum.
"We now have a board of five members and at least 75 to 80 volunteers across maybe four counties that want to help collect and sort and wrap and help deliver the gifts," O'Leary said. "We even had a division of the New Jersey State Police contact us saying they want to collect for us, and the owner of a towing company is giving us a flat bead truck and decorating it and taking Santa and the elves to go deliver the gifts."
The organization has an official website, however has been interacting with eager volunteers and donors through a Facebook page. On Facebook, they offer a list of suggested donations and a regularly updated list of specific donations that families have requested.
The needs of each family varies, O'Leary explained, and the requests vary from clothes and winter accessories to Dora the Explorer toys and coloring books.
D'Bella, located on Matawan Road in the Townsquare Shopping Center on the Old Bridge border, is working as a local drop-off center for these items.
"Our state has never seen anything of this magnitude," said DeSanto. "I drove through Union Beach and just saw... It's unbelievable. It's like a war zone and I can only imagine what those families are going through."
"It's just important to make sure that the kids have some sort of cheer, that the families have something to look forward to while they are going through this tragedy," he added.
The owner of Townsquare Shopping Center is allowing D'Bella to utilize a currently unoccupied 1,000 square foot retail space for free to store and wrap presents for Operation Jersey Shore Santa. D'Bella will collect donations until Dec. 15, DeSanto said.
O'Leary emphasized that without the kindness of New Jersey residents, none of this would be possible.
"It's not a one person thing, it's through the many, many volunteers and many generous people that this is becoming such a successful operation," she said. "As a whole, New Jersey is a very close-knit state. Yeah we bicker and yeah we butt heads, but when something like this happens it really seems the communities come together."
Operation Jersey Shore Santa does not discriminate based on religion, and will donate gifts to children regardless of what holiday they celebrate, O'Leary explained.
If you or a friend are in need of assistance this holiday season, there are several ways you can contact Operation Jersey Shore Santa:
- Call their headquarters at 732-701-7012
- Direct message them on Facebook
- Send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fill out a form online at http://www.operationjerseyshoresanta.org/
Operation Jersey Shore Santa also has a list of Frequently Asked Questions if you would like more information.