By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Peggy Moore briefly became emotional while marveling over the dozens of colorfully wrapped Christmas gifts that reflected the generosity of many donors in Sea Isle City in support of military veterans.
“It’s overwhelming,” Moore said, her voice choking. “People are so generous.”
For the fourth year in a row, the Sea Isle-based VFW Post 1963 and its Auxiliary organized a “Christmas Caravan” to deliver gifts to Vineland as a gesture of appreciation to the residents who live at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home.
Moore, who serves as the Auxiliary’s president, didn’t know exactly how many Christmas presents there were on the tables set up on the front lawn of the VFW headquarters on Friday morning. But she said they represented about $10,000 in donations from the community.
Members of the VFW and Auxiliary were joined by community volunteers to load all of the gifts into a box truck for delivery to Vineland. Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman also lent a hand with the presents.
“Today, you’re going to make so many veterans happy. Once again, you outdid yourselves,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said of the VFW and Auxiliary’s charitable efforts as the caravan prepared to leave Sea Isle.
The VFW and Auxiliary members collected an array of clothing and other items from the community, including T-shirts, sweatshirts, bedroom slippers, toiletries, jigsaw puzzles, art supplies, snacks and much more.
“There’s everything in these boxes,” Moore said of the Christmas presents. “They are jam-packed.”
VFW Post 1963 Commander Joe McLenaghan, a Vietnam veteran, said he was touched by all of the donations from the community.
“On a personal level, it’s really fulfilling emotionally,” he said. “I’m a little overwhelmed by their generosity.”
In a prayer before the caravan left Sea Isle, Pastor Melissa Doyle-Waid, of the United Methodist Church, praised God for letting the veterans know “that their service was of value and important to all of us.”
Accompanied by a Sea Isle Police Department escort, the caravan of trucks and cars pulled out from the Post 1963 headquarters and headed for Vineland. Santa led the caravan while being chauffeured in a shiny red 1950 Ford F-1 vintage pickup truck.
For the final leg of the journey, the caravan was greeted by Vineland police cars and other emergency vehicles. With sirens blaring, the caravan made a trip around the Memorial Home complex to alert the residents of its arrival.
“It brings a little bit of joy to all of the veterans,” said Ruth Brown, a VFW Auxiliary member who dressed in a Frosty the Snowman costume for the event.
Brown stressed that, “first and foremost,” the Christmas Caravan was intended to honor the veterans for their sacrifices and military service.
The gifts helped to spread some Christmas cheer among the Memorial Home’s 300 veterans, many of whom are elderly and have only a few family members or none at all.
VFW Post 1963 and the Auxiliary previously would bring 15 to 20 veterans from the Memorial Home to Sea Isle for a Christmas celebration. But four years ago, they started the Christmas Caravan so that all of the veterans at the Memorial Home would receive gifts.
Moore said the caravan reflects the true spirit of Christmas, including the willingness of the VFW and the Auxiliary members to donate their time to help the veterans.
“People come up to me all of the time and say, ‘What can we do?’ They’re here all of the time,” Moore said. “It’s so heartwarming. There are no Grinches here.”