All parents want their children to be able to open up the presents of their dreams on Christmas morning, but for cash-strapped families in Monmouth and Ocean counties, that may not be feasible from year to year. That's why a local nonprofit has been working for more than a century to meet not only the needs, but also the wish lists of area kids.

Christmas tree decorated with presents
Stockphoto24, ThinkStock

"We really try to find gifts that each child would really love to open," said Samantha White, coordinator of the Operation Sleighbells program run by Long Branch-based Family & Children's Service. Representatives from the program meet with underprivileged families all the way back in September, well before the holiday shopping rush, to try and nail down a specific list for every child.

Family & Children's Service has been in operation for well over 100 years, and the concept of what is now Operation Sleighbells traces its roots back just as far. The program returned to the organization for good about 15 years ago.

The yearly undertaking primarily benefits Monmouth County families, reaching nearly every municipality there, but serves a few families in Ocean County as well. This year, more than 500 families have signed up through the program.

"Each year, we've grown the number of families in need, and we've continued to be able to service all of those families," White said. "We collect donations throughout November and December from organizations, corporations, schools, (and) individuals."

Those donations range from essential clothing, like winter coats and pajamas, to toys for all ages of children.

"Books and art supplies and everything in between, and then we try to get gift cards" for some of the older participants, White said.

Families are not limited to receiving just one year's worth of donations; for some, need for the program fluctuates on a yearly basis, depending on what kind of Christmas budget a family is able to string together.

"We do have some families that have been on for multiple years, but each year you never know what the situation's going to be for a family," White said.

Anyone who has signed up to receive donated gifts through Operation Sleighbells this year will be able to pick up their items on Thursday, Dec. 17, and Saturday, Dec. 19. For more information, click here.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's evening news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015, email, and listen for his live reports Monday through Thursday nights between 6:30 and 11 p.m.

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