OLDMANS TWP. - More than 140 children gathered in a celebration of giving as the first-ever Touching Lives of South Jersey (TLSJ) Children's Christmas Party took place here Tuesday at the Edward W. Dorn Community Center.
In an effort to provide less fortunate children with some holiday gifts, members of TLSJ, a new nonprofit based in Penns Grove, in conjunction with Calvary Community Development Corp., hosted the event open to the entire county. Those children that registered received one gift that was both age and gender appropriate.
The group was also able to purchase 15 food baskets through Angel Food Ministries. The baskets feed a family of four for a week and they were donated to local families.
"What we were looking to do was find a way to help the local community," said Valerie Gibson, who serves as treasurer for TLSJ.
Originally set for last Saturday, the organization had to reschedule the event for Tuesday night because of the snow."We originally had a four-hour program for the kids on Saturday," said Gibson. "But with the bad weather we changed the day and had to scale back things a bit."
There was still plenty of fun and games for the children, ages 1 to 13, as they sang Christmas carols and played "Santa Says," a holiday version of the popular kids game "Simon Says." Children and adults played as one of the TLSJ staff led them through the game. The winners each received a prize.After a formal introduction of the event and a blessing, the children munched on hot dogs, chips, and cookies - every kid's favorite meal.
Twins Kynasia and Kyree Dempsey, 6, especially enjoyed the event. During the Christmas caroling, Kyree watched his sister Kynasia as she belted out the last few word to "Jingles Bells" over the microphone."This group (TLSJ) is new and has been doing a great job with the young people," said Rev. Edward W. Dorn. "A lot of people are struggling with the economy and they put together something that reached the entire community."
When brainstorming on what would be the first event for TLSJ, they thought about those struggling during these tough economic times and the children all around Salem County who may not receive gifts during the holiday season because of family job loss or economic cutbacks.
"This is actually our first event as a group," said Gibson. "What we wanted was just a party for the kids."With snow still on the road, the event started slow, but as the night moved on tables were filled with excited children.
"We had 143 kids signed up and each one gets a gift," said TLSJ Board Director Stella Dawkins.
The organization also had a table set up toward the front of the center that was stacked with different knick-knacks and other small gifts. The children got to pick one of these presents with the items ranging from coloring books and crayons for the younger kids to novels and other books for the teenagers.
The Philadelphia Phillies organization also donated a bunch of items. The children got to pick from Phillies water bottles and fan booklets with player info.
"My kids learned about the event through the W.A.T.C.H. program here," said Carneys Point resident Almeda Johnson-Sye. "What is really great though is that this is open to the whole community and the program gives such a positive influence to the youth."After lining up to get their gifts, children were seen smiling ear to ear, making it apparent that just three days before Christmas the spirit was definitely in the air.
"This has all been a blessing. The kids were still able to get their gifts and enjoy themselves despite the bad weather," said Gibson