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Carmela Desiderio, foreground, and other volunteers load a van with presents and food for needy families.

By MADDY VITALE

Holiday meals and gifts under the tree may be things that some people take for granted. There is that rush to buy those last-minute gifts and food shopping to make sure there is enough for the guests.

For others, it means stress and anxiety because there isn’t enough food for dinner and there aren’t any gifts to go under a tree. In Sea Isle City, Mayor Leonard Desiderio thought about that. It was 29 years ago when he hosted his first Holiday Toy and Food Drive.

And from there, his toy and food drive has continued to grow and help needy families in the area.

These are just some of the bags filled with gifts to help make Christmas brighter.

After collecting donations of toys, food, and other items during the past month, Desiderio and his volunteer “elves” made special deliveries to 13 local families in need.

“It’s been 29 years and every year it gets better and better,” Desiderio said as he entered the room to help take the gifts to a van to deliver to the families. “The people of Sea Isle City care and it shows.”

The toy and food drive, led by the mayor’s assistant, Pattiann Ponichtera for the past 25 years, is a success year after year. Ponichtera said this year, like the ones before it, showcased the giving nature of the residents and businesses of Sea Isle.

“Everyone is so generous every year,” she said.

Jerry Hauser, center, and his wife donated a check to the toy and food drive. From left, Sis Borden, Pattiann Ponichtera and Mayor Leonard Desiderio.

Sea Isle resident Sis Borden does the gift wrapping for the toy and food drive each year. This is her 12th year, and she noticed something very special about this event.

“The donations came in like you wouldn’t believe,” Borden said. “Everyone is in a great Christmas spirit and I don’t know exactly how many gifts I wrapped, but there were a lot of extra ones this year.”

The donated items ranged from stuffed animals, toys, games and gift cards to frozen turkeys and non-perishable foods. Families, businesses and private organizations also gave cash donations.

Post 1963 Commander Mark Lloyd and Auxiliary President Patti Lloyd fill a bag with gifts.

VFW Post 1963 Commander Mark Lloyd and his wife, Patti Lloyd, who is the president of the post’s Auxiliary, were on hand to lend support for the toy and food drive.

On behalf of Post 1963, they donated food and gifts to some of the families in need.

“We are just here to support and do what we can to make Sea Isle a happy place and to help the families who need it,” Patti Lloyd said as she helped her husband fill a bag with toys.

“We get a tremendous amount of support from the city and the mayor and when it comes time, we just jump in,” Mark Lloyd noted. “It is all about the families.”

Mayor Leonard Desiderio loads the van.

In addition to the numerous gifts that each family received on Thursday, the toy and food drive also donated items to the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, Saint Casimir Catholic Church in Woodbine, and Volunteers in Medicine of South Jersey.

“Once again, the people of Sea Isle City showed their generosity and were able to make many families happy at Christmas,” Desiderio said. “I am very grateful for all of the donations that we received during this year’s Toy and Food Drive, and I wish everyone a Merry Christmas!”

To learn more about events happening in Sea Isle City, go to https://www.visitsicnj.com/

Mayor Leonard Desiderio, center, with volunteers. (Photo courtesy of Sea Isle City)