By Karen Zautyk
‘Tis the season for giving, but sometimes even the most generous giver wouldn’t mind receiving something in return.
We’re not talking reciprocal gifts or even expressions of gratitude. We’re talking about the warmth and joy you feel when you find the perfect present for a child — that toy the youngster really, really wants, or some other wonderful surprise, something the child never expected to get.
What makes it even better: You know that the recipient will never know who the giver is. And vice versa. There’s something about anonymity that enhances the giving.
If you would like that special feeling this year, Nutley has a project in which you should participate.
The township Department of Public Affairs is again sponsoring its Holiday Treasure Chest Adopt -a-Family program, which links givers with families in need, on a completely anonymous basis.
The annual Treasure Chest was launched in 2000 by then-Commissioner Joanne Cocchiola. Initially, it was a traditional toy drive. Donors would bring in various playthings, which town employees would wrap and deliver to the families. But over the years, “it changed, because families’ needs changed,” said Public Affairs clerk Annmarie Nicolette, current coordinator of the program.
Today, it encompasses not only toys, but clothing — and also gift cards, which the families can use to buy just about anything, including food.
Each sponsor, paired with a family that has registered with the department, is given specifics on the number of children, whether they are boys or girls, their ages, their clothing sizes, their special interests and hobbies. When the Secret Santas go shopping, it is with specific goals in mind, and a mental image of a child they will delight.
What the sponsors don’t receive is any identifying information. Each family is identified only as a number. Neither will the families learn from whom the gifts came. “We keep it all extremely confidential,” Nicolette said.
The department learns of potential recipient families with the help of SACs (Student Assistant Coordinators) and the principals of Nutley’s high school, junior high and five grammar schools. Parents or guardians fill out the gift request forms and must sign them before being included in the Treasure Chest.
Last year, 103 Nutley families in need benefitted from the program, Nicolette said. (She also emphasized that, although sponsors are welcome from anywhere, only Nutley residents are eligible to be gift recipients.)
If a Nutley family in need doesn’t have a child in the school system, they can still apply for the Treasure Chest by contacting the Department of Public Affairs directly.
“We try not to turn anyone away,” Nicolette said.
That also means linking would-be donors who may be able to adopt an entire family with some individual in need.
Nicolette remembered a call she received from a senior citizen who said, “I’ve had a good year and I want to help another senior.” The department knew of one who was an avid reader, and the sponsor went out and bought a shelfful of books and bookends. This, too, was done anonymously.
“The program is really about children, but seniors can participate, too,” Nicolette said.
In addition to individuals, sponsors include PTOs and other civic organizations, clubs, Scout troops, churches, etc.
Nicolette noted that an increasing number of business offices are electing to join the program, in lieu of employees’ exchanging holiday gifts with each other.
Businesses themselves can be sponsors. There is one in Nutley, Nicolette said, that provides a family with full turkey dinners at both Thanksgiving and Christmas.
And the cost of Holiday Treasure Chest to the town? Zilch. “There’s no expense at all to the taxpayers,” Nicolette said. “Even the cost of the stamps and the stationery is taken care of.”
As for the gift-giving guidelines, it is suggested that sponsors buy two to three gifts for each child in the “adopted” family. For teenagers, gift cards are popular.
The presents should remain unwrapped and identified with the recipient’s info (i.e. Boy, age 6) and then placed in a large bag bearing a sticker with the family’s identifying number.
All gifts should be delivered to the Department of Public Affairs, 149 Chestnut St., by Dec. 18 or earlier.
Nicolette’s boss, Public Affairs Commissioner Steven Rogers, has high praise for her commitment to the annual Treasure Chest, noting: “Annemarie has a unique passion for projects like this, and when you tap into a person’s passion, you find that person goes above and beyond the call of duty.”
If you are interested in adopting a family for the holidays, making a contribution to the Treasure Chest, or learning more about the program, call Nicolette at 973-284-4975.