Pattiann Ponichtera, left, organizer of the Mayor's Holiday Toy and Food Drive, and volunteer Sis Borden, who wrapped the gifts, marvel over all of the donated presents in 2017.

By Donald Wittkowski

Sis Borden choked back tears when asked why she had single-handedly wrapped 200 Christmas gifts that will find their way into the homes of needy families throughout Sea Isle City.

“My father volunteered for everything. We didn’t have much, but what we had, we shared. He instilled it in me,” she explained of her late father, Jim Harris.

For the sixth year in a row, the 75-year-old Borden took on the challenge of meticulously wrapping all of the gifts that were donated to Mayor Leonard Desiderio’s Holiday Toy and Food Drive.

Borden is one of the local volunteers, known as the “mayor’s elves,” who play a big part in a communitywide campaign to collect and distribute the toys and boxes of food. This year, an estimated 200 toys and about 60 food boxes were donated by local charities, civic groups, the business community and residents.

“It is definitely a community effort,” said Pattiann Ponichtera, the assistant to the mayor and organizer of the toy and food drive, now in its 25th year.

Mayor Leonard Desiderio, left, and volunteer Paul Baldini Jr. share a laugh while moving some of the gifts out of City Hall.

This Christmas, more than 40 children and 18 families throughout Sea Isle are benefiting from the drive. At City Hall, a room on the second floor brimmed with colorfully wrapped gifts, stuffed animals and boxes filled with food and candy.

Volunteers from groups such as the Italian-American Club of Sea Isle City and VFW Post 1963 helped to load and deliver the toys and food boxes on Friday afternoon, just in time for the holiday.

In addition to contributing toys, the VFW donated turkeys, stuffing and bread. The Italian-American Club donated $400 in cash, according to organizers and volunteers.

“The community is very, very generous,” Desiderio said. “It makes us feel good that we are able to help families to have food and toys for their children.”

The mayor noted that volunteers are warmly greeted with smiles and hugs during their deliveries. Often, the families will give the volunteers soup or cookies as an expression of gratitude.

“They are very happy to see us,” said Desiderio, who also makes the rounds to hand out toys and food.

Local volunteers, known as the “mayor’s elves” help to deliver the gifts around town.

With its collection of multimillion-dollar beachfront homes, trendy boutiques and iconic restaurants and nightclubs, Sea Isle is mainly known as an upscale summer vacation retreat. However, Desiderio pointed out there are also pockets of needy families who struggle to make ends meet.

“People think of Sea Isle City as a beautiful community with beautiful homes,” he said. “Seventy-three percent of our taxpayers are second- or third-homeowners. So, it’s hard for people to believe that we also have some families who are not well off.”

The community’s generosity during the toy and food drive is reflected by people like Borden, who began wrapping all of the gifts in November.

“Thank you. Good job,” Desiderio said to Borden while giving her a hug.

When told that organizers had estimated the number of gifts at 200, Borden smiled.

“I think it’s more than 200. It felt like more than 200 when I wrapped them,” she said with a laugh.

A room in City Hall brims with colorfully wrapped gifts, stuffed animals and boxes of food.