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Nov 14, 2019

A 27th Season Begins for Volunteer Organization Holiday Express

By Joanne Colella

It’s November, and that means it’s the busy holiday season for most of us. However, “busy” doesn’t begin to describe the hustle and bustle that is taking place at the headquarters for the nonprofit volunteer organization Holiday Express, which is kicking off its 27th season of delivering music, food, gifts, financial support and friendship to those with the greatest need for the gift of human kindness. When Tim McLoone first assembled his band of merry musicians and other volunteers to visit those in need of holiday cheer way back in 1993, little did any of them know how long that tradition would continue, how far its reach would extend, or what a hugely important part of so many lives it would become.

The numbers are astounding. Starting the first week of November and continuing through Christmas Eve, the 2019 Holiday Express season will see 2,500 volunteers devoting 27,000 hours of their time, talent and effort and traveling an estimated 25,000 miles throughout New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia. They will host 100 events in 51 days at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, psychiatric hospitals, addiction recovery programs, developmental centers, children’s hospitals, special needs schools, veterans’ groups, and more to serve 17,000 meals and distribute 27,000 gift duffle bags, all lovingly packed by hand at the Holiday Express warehouse with new, essential personal items such as warm blankets, toiletries, gloves and hats. All of this is done with no state or federal funding of any kind; Holiday Express relies entirely upon the generosity of its supporters.

Many people only recognize Holiday Express through the few public events that they hold, which are the main fundraisers for the organization and its mission. But what exactly goes on behind the scenes at those 100 other events whose magic is so indescribable?

Imagine for a moment what it’s like to organize a party for anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred people. Your guests are, for the most part, strangers, and each one comes to the event with a wide range of challenges of their own: homelessness, hunger, developmental disabilities, mental illness, physical challenges, cancer, addictions, PTSD from their years of military service, blindness, abuse, loneliness and more. They range in age from toddlers to senior citizens. Some have no family, friends or any visitors besides their dedicated caregivers.

You’re providing everything: the food, drinks, desserts, snacks, candy, paper plates, napkins and utensils. You’re decorating the room with bright tablecloths and festive centerpieces. You’ve got crafts and face painting and temporary tattoos. You’re presenting live musical entertainment, with a band of professional musicians who are donating their time and incredible talent. You direct diverse volunteers, most with families and jobs and busy schedules of their own, who will spend their time enthusiastically serving food, singing, dancing, hugging and socializing with all the attendees, giving them one-on-one attention. You’re bringing along beloved costume characters like The Grinch, Cookie Monster, Elmo, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa and Mrs. Claus, and a whole bunch of elves. There may be special raffle prizes and personalized, big-ticket gifts given to the group – things they could not otherwise afford on shoestring budgets. And at the end of the celebration, you will send each and every guest home with a huge tote bag, stuffed with a variety of personal care items, blankets, hats, gloves, socks, toys, and more.

Now imagine doing this every day, sometimes two or even three times a day, for about six weeks, from early November through Christmas Eve – an ambitious, amazing, awesome 100 events in all, for tens of thousands of people in need. If you can imagine all that, then perhaps you have an inkling of what it is that Holiday Express provides each year. It is, quite simply, a merry, musical, magical army of volunteers, working through a myriad of logistics with military precision, to deliver the gift of human kindness. And there are many ways in which you can help.

Raffle Prize Gifts – Many Holiday Express charitable events have a raffle where a few lucky winners receive a customized gift in addition to the gift bags everyone is given. The most requested items for these raffles are warm clothing for men and women, which must be brand new, and include: winter coats in sizes L, XL and XXL; winter jackets in fleece, wool blends and windbreaker styles; and warm pajamas for men and women.

Bright Lights – You can become a “Bright Light” by pledging to make a monthly donation to Holiday Express. Every dollar makes a difference, no matter how large or small your monthly gift may be, and helps to provide everything from warm hats and gloves for the homeless to toiletry and personal care items for veterans to soft, cuddly toys for critically ill children.

Matching Gifts – If your company has a matching gift program, it can double the impact of every donation you make. Some companies also offer monetary donations or grants in return for their employees’ volunteer hours. Check with your human resource department to find out.

Fundraising Event Sponsors – Holiday Express presents just a few public events each year to raise both funds and awareness of their mission throughout the community. Sponsorship opportunities are available for the popular Holiday Express Golf Classic in July, the Sunset Benefit Clambake in September, and two benefit concerts at the Count Basie Theatre in December, scheduled this year for Monday, Dec. 16 and Tuesday, Dec. 17.

In-Kind Donations – Holiday Express relies upon the wonderful in-kind donations provided by others to provide meals, truck rentals, generators, toiletries, boxes, tents, bottled water, beverages, blankets, media coverage, graphic design work, printing, and other supplies and services. These help to keep operating costs low and they welcome these partnerships.

Collection Drives – Each and every one of the nearly 30,000 people they visit receives a Holiday Express gift bag, filled with essential items that are personalized to meet their needs. Collection drives of those items are a perfect project for students, scouts, neighborhoods, civic organizations, congregations and businesses.

Special Donations – A gift to Holiday Express is a thoughtful way to honor someone for a birthday or other special occasion, a caring way to remember a loved one and a life well lived, or a meaningful way to leave behind a legacy of your own. Donors will receive a grateful acknowledgement for their generosity.

Adopt an Event – Each Holiday Express charity event costs an average of $6,000, with funds going entirely for the supplies, transportation, food, musical equipment, and gifts that they bring. When you adopt an event, you provide the funds needed for all of those expenses and also automatically become a Giving Partner.

Giving Partners – Each season, the facilities Holiday Express visits are asked to provide a “wish list” of items, at various price points, that they could not otherwise afford to assist their clientele. The season’s list is uploaded and continually updated on the Holiday Express website so that individuals, organizations or businesses can view them and select something they’d like to provide. Giving Partners are invited to come to the event to present their gift and to see for themselves the joy it brings.

To learn more about Holiday Express and to help deliver the gift of human kindness, visit HolidayExpress.org, call 732-544-8010 or email info@holidayexpress.org. For all the latest updates and images of their amazing season, follow Holiday Express on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Holiday Express office and warehouse is located at 151 Industrial Way East, Building A in Eatontown.