BY ELANA ARON
For 10 children, this Christmas was like no other they have celebrated in the past.
It all began at Freehold Area Open Door, a nonprofit organization that provides food, emergency funding, mentoring and scholarship programs to needy families in Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Colts Neck, Marlboro and Millstone Township.
In the month leading up to the holiday several parents approached Open Door with their Christmas wish lists: bicycles for their children.
“This year we had quite a few requests for bikes,” said Jeanne Yaecker, director of the food pantry program at Open Door. “We try to get them what they want.”
After that, things happened fast.
“We have a new volunteer from the Riviera,” Yaecker said, referring to the adult community on Jackson Mills Road, Freehold Township. “She brought friends and they said, ‘We can help.’ They not only bought the bikes, but they donated a huge amount of money for food.”
The volunteer Yaecker was referring to is Riviera resident Marie Martino.
Martino, who has lived in Freehold Township for nearly two years, is the social community chair at the Riviera and a member of the Sunshine Club, a club dedicated to sending cards and gifts to sick individuals. The club “adopted” Open Door and began food and toy drives at holiday time.
Martino and her friends sprung into action when they heard about the parents’ requests for the bicycles.
“We went all over to price them,” said Martino, a retired teacher who also worked in a Staten Island, N.Y., homeless shelter for 22 years. “We asked for donations toward bikes for the kids.”
According to Martino, $1,800 was collected within a week.
“There are very generous people living here in Freehold,” said Martino. “Every-body just cares.”
Martino and her friends from the Riviera then approached Beacon Cycling and Fitness Center, Route 9, Howell.
“We told them we needed 10 bikes for children in need,” she said.
Beacon Cycling owner Mitch Rovins, store manager Brian Graessle and sales associate Andrew Korzenok responded by providing 10 bicycles at just above cost, along with helmets, bicycle locks and lifetime warranties.
“If you can do something for somebody, that’s a cool thing,” Korzenok said. “People that can help others, it’s a wonderful thing. It was very touching.”
The people at Open Door were astounded when they were presented with the gifts.
“The outpouring was amazing,” Yaecker said. “To get 10 bikes from the same group of people was beyond our wildest dreams.”
The bicycles were trucked over to Open Door and picked up by the happy and grateful parents.
“It was a labor of love,” Martino said.
For more information visit the Web site www.freeholdareaopendoor.org or call (732) 780-1089. Open Door is at 39 Throckmorton St., Freehold Borough.