It's the Holiday Season...Friends to Friends Community Church
This is a controversial opinion in November, but I love Christmas music. I love the feelings they conjure, the memories they bring back, and that feeling of warmth they give off even as the temperature goes down day by day. That's why when I heard about the great Jersey Shore charity, Holiday Express', season starting up earlier this month (the 7th to be exact), I was all in and ready to go, even if I was a bit late to the game.
For those who might be new here, Holiday Express is a charity based in Monmouth County, New Jersey whose mission it is to spread the joy of the holiday season to those who might need it most during this time of year. And how do we spread said joy? By quite literally getting on a bus and visiting homeless shelters, developmental centers, hospitals, rehabs, and many other places and throwing a giant party. Seriously, it's great. There's food, presents, and lots of dancing to music provided by a live band and all organized by some of the most dedicated group of volunteers I've ever met.
I've been playing in the aforementioned band for 8 years (What?) and volunteering for 10 years (WHAT?) and the most difficult thing is explaining to people why it's so great, so for the last few years I've been trying to document each event I volunteer at to give people a better picture of what happens on a day-to-day basis. Usually I would just post it on Facebook, but now I have this shiny new website and I'm going to use it. So without further ado...
November 26: Friends to Friends Community Church
Better late than never! Holiday Express has long been underway and last Saturday was my first event. And what a way to lead it off. Friends to Friends Community Church is a congregation in Bergen County that caters to developmentally disabled adults. I've been to facilities that help these sorts of people before and I can't help but feel a pang of sadness. Often times, these folks don't have any family to speak of and our little gathering and gift might be the only Christmas they get. Sometimes, the mood in the room can be a bit heavy. But that was not the case on Saturday.
When the members of the congregation filed into the little reception hall and heard the Christmas music playing over the speakers and saw the festively decorated tables and bags of candy (all expertly put together by Holiday Express volunteers), the excitement was palpable. Everyone knew it was going to be a good one.
From the second the band started to play, almost the entire room was up, dancing and singing. Several audience members joined the band to play along, too. One of our only rules at a Holiday Express party is that, basically, there are no rules. You want to sing an Elvis Presley song? Go for it. Feel like screaming for joy? We encourage it. Want to jump around, flailing your arms this way and that? Sounds great (Just be careful)! From my vantage point, playing bass, I get to see the audience transform over the course of the event from a seated and orderly group to a writhing mass of energy and happiness. And that's my favorite part.
Over the course of the event, several characters came out to dance and play with the crowd, including Rudolph, Frosty, and the much maligned Grinch. We also raffled off some prizes to some very lucky winners. And at the end, just like he always does, Santa came out to say hello and brought gifts for everyone there. That part always amazes me too. This event on Saturday is one of over 90 Holiday Express will do before Christmas Eve and in that time we'll see something like 20,000 people in need. And EVERYONE gets a gift, courtesy of Holiday Express. It sounds like a Christmas miracle...and it definitely is...but it also represents the core of what we believe as an organization: that ultimately we are all the same and want the same things, no matter what our situation and that nobody ought to be alone on Christmas.
A fun one in Bergen...and so many more to go! I'll be checking periodically with the events I'm able to attend. As we always say when we finish an event...on to the next!