Contributions of many made Operation Sleighbells a success

 Amanda Martin (l-r) and Nicole Lewis, of Union Beach, and their families, were among those helped by Operation Sleighbells. Their homes were destroyed by Sandy. Amanda Martin (l-r) and Nicole Lewis, of Union Beach, and their families, were among those helped by Operation Sleighbells. Their homes were destroyed by Sandy. More than 1,000 area children and their families — many of whom are displaced and living in temporary housing in the wake of superstorm Sandy — had a brighter holiday season thanks to the generosity of hundreds of local families, businesses and organizations who donated to Family & Children’s Service’s (FCS) Operation Sleighbells.

This year the agency collected an estimated 10,000 new toys, books, children’s coats, hats and gloves, as well as household goods and gift cards, to distribute to more than 475 families from 37 area towns, including hard-hit Belmar, Union Beach, Keansburg and Keyport.

Samantha White, manager of volunteer services, said donations came from as far north as Vermont, and as far south as Virginia, and filled every nook and cranny of the more than 10,000 square feet of the temporary space donated for the drive by Monmouth Medical Center.

“The outpouring of generosity has been overwhelming, especially from the local community,” White said in a press release. “For every person in need, there are dozens willing to help. We received donations from school children whose classmates were impacted by Sandy, from businesses whose employees were displaced or temporarily homeless, and neighbors who sheltered other neighbors during the storm and felt fortunate to be able to give.”

Among those who helped make this year’s Operation Sleighbells a success was 16-year-old Kyle Evans, of Oceanport, whose own home was flooded during Sandy, but who set out to collect 800 new toys for the drive. He met his goal, as did students at Rumson Country Day School, The Village School in Holmdel, Atlantis Prep in Manasquan, West Freehold School, the Dugan School in Marlboro and Colts Neck High School.

Operation Sleighbells addresses the specific wishes of each child. Families are referred through other social service agencies, interviewed, and asked to provide the ages, clothing sizes and needs of each child. This year, in addition to collecting for the children, the agency also sought new sheets, blankets, comforters, towels, pots and pans, and gift cards to help families affected by the storm. Among those receiving gifts was Nicole Lewis, whose home in Union Beach was destroyed by Sandy, and her neighbor Amanda Martin. Theirs were among the many displaced families referred to the program this year. Nicole, her husband and young son have no home to speak of and are living in temporary housing. The storm literally lifted their house off its foundation and carried it away. Meanwhile, Amanda, her husband and three young boys are living in a friend’s home until January, but have no idea where they will go after that, the press release states.

Many local companies and businesses also sponsored collection drives or made donations to this year’s Operation Sleighbells. According to White, their contributions, along with the contributions of dozens of volunteers who spent countless hours sorting and bagging the donations, helped make this year’s Operation Sleighbells a success. For more information about Operations Sleighbells, visit the agency’s website at or contact the agency at 732-222-9111.