Child 'elves' fill goody bags

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  • Sorting 4,000 cookies into goody bags sounds like a job for Cookie Monster, or kind-hearted child elves. The later volunteered to help Project-Self-Suffiency stuff goody bags that will be given to families who needed a helping hand this holiday. The parents will be given a bag when entering the "Toy Shop" this weekend to pick up toys to brighten their children's holiday.

  • In the Project Self-Sufficiency board room, Michelle Michaluk and Vanessa Portante prepare goody bags. Their children are two of the young volunteers. (Photo by Laurie Gordon).

  • (Left to right): Julia Myers, 10, of Vernon, Gabby Kelly, 11, of Hamburg, Michaela Thoma, 11, of Vernon, and Isabel Heaney, 11, of Hamburg were important bag stuffers on Sunday as they prepared goodie bags to be distributed as part of Project Self-Sufficiency's Season of Hope. (Photo by Laurie Gordon).

  • The label proves it: The cookies were baked with love. (Photo by Laurie Gordon).

By Laurie Gordon

Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster would have been delighted on Sunday morning at the sight of Project Self-Sufficiency’s 4,000 cookies as they were being added to goody bags to be distributed to those coming to pick up toys next week. The “elves” were child volunteers from northern Sussex County. The group was created by Sussex County resident Michelle Michaluk who works at Project Self-Sufficiency and who recognized a need for a community service initiative which welcomed younger children.

“They’re too young to be a part of Pass It Along yet, but it’s important that they have the chance to volunteer and understand that there are people who are less fortunate in our community,” Michaluk said.

The kids have helped with other Project Self-Sufficiency initiatives, including special events with senior residents at Liberty Towers in Newton. On Sunday morning, sleeping in wasn’t an option as they volunteered their time to assemble 1,000 bags filled with water, snacks and cookies donated by Shop Rite of Newton and the Culinary Arts program at Sussex County Community College.

“These children are setting a wonderful example of service to others by working together to support local families in the community during this holiday season,” said Deborah Berry-Toon, executive director of Project Self-Sufficiency. “We are truly grateful for the help provided by these children and their families, as well as by Shop Rite and Sussex County Community College for supporting their efforts.” Michaluk’s daughter, Isabel Heaney was one of those elves.

“We are here to help families in need and create bags to make them happy,” Heaney said.

Her friend, Gabby Kelly, said, “It makes me feel happy to help others in need and what we are doing today is important.”

Michaluk said they’re grateful to ShopRite and the college for the cookie donations.

“Our Executive Director met Professor Marty Kester who coordinates SCCC’s Culinary Arts Program and he was happy to bake for the cause,” she said.

The college has a long standing relationship with Project Self Sufficiency.

“More recently we were holding some of our culinary classes in their kitchen facility,” Kester said. “They approached the Culinary Program about donating the cookies and we were happy to be involved and support the Season of Hope Toy Shop.”

Culinary students Jillian Christian and Lucia Sky, along with Kester, baked two thousand sugar cookies coated with cinnamon powdered sugar, and three volunteers from the college’s Academic Affairs helped package them.

When the time comes to distribute the toys, those waiting to enter the Toy Shop will be given these goody bags.

The Season of Hope Toy Drive benefits thousands of children in Sussex and Northern Morris and Warren counties. The initiative is spearheaded by Project Self-Sufficiency in conjunction with a consortium of local businesses, schools, social service agencies and civic organizations.

Contributions of new, unwrapped toys and monetary donations will be gratefully received at Project Self-Sufficiency, 127 Mill Street in Newton, Monday – Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. or Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Donation of items were requested by end of day Dec. 13 to allow ample time for distribution to needy families, however, financial donations may be made online now and at any time by visiting or phone 973-940-3500.

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