For the past eight years, Rhonda Klch and her company Equity First have made many dreams come true.
This year is no different with Klch’s annual Holiday Dream event, which provides Christmas gifts for Long Island families in need. On Sunday, residents who registered for the event picked up their Christmas presents at the Coram Fire Department headquarters from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Klch, a Miller Place resident, and event volunteers upped the ante this year by getting gifts for around 250 families from Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson Station, Selden, Medford and other towns across the Island.
“These kids feel like they’re walking on a cloud,” said Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), as several children ran around with balloons in the background after receiving their presents and meeting Santa.
Cartright was one of many people Klch called this year when searching for families in need of some holiday cheer. Local schools and churches were also contacted to find these families. While the families don’t need to be homeless to participate in the program, many of these families are financially unable to afford presents around the holidays.
People like Gordon Leonard of Selden said with the recession it’s harder to live on Long Island, making special seasons like the holidays more stressful.
“We came here because some Long Islanders understand the plight of many other Long Islanders, and they’re giving because they know people are struggling just to be New Yorkers,” he said. “We don’t want to leave. What choice do we have.”
While his son Devon received several gifts from the program this year, he said his favorite part about Sunday’s program was spending time with his family.
According to volunteer Priscilla Arena, of Mount Sinai, the event was a success this year.
“The outpour from the community has been tremendous and I’m hoping that it’ll only increase next year,” she said.
Last year, the event helped around 167 families. Arena got involved with the program around a month ago after Klch, a business associate and friend of hers, told her about the event. For Arena, helping the program and the families who benefit seemed natural.
For residents like Tiana Wyche, who lives in a shelter, Holiday Dream was important to bring joy to her children. Wyche is originally from Riverhead but currently resides in Port Jefferson Station.
“Unfortunately, financial restrictions impact everybody and it becomes difficult over holidays,” Klch said. “I think people have this perception that just because you live somewhere, you’re doing very well. But unfortunately, people get so blind.”
Klch added that people don’t always realize how many families struggle to live on the Island, much less celebrate the holidays. She started spreading the word about the event among people in the business district. While Holiday Dream is the main event where children pick up their toys and have breakfast with Santa, there are toy drive events prior to Holiday Dream that Klch and her company host to raise more donations.
For Carmen Nunez and her family, who moved from the Dominican Republic to Port Jefferson Station, the program was extra special. Her family wasn’t used to getting presents around this time of year.
“I feel so happy,” she said. “Thank you to [Comsewogue ESL teacher Denise Saul] and everybody who tried to make [the children happy by giving them presents], especially this time for Christmas. It’s beautiful.”
While the family is trying to do the best they can here on Long Island, Saul said they are continuing the event’s mission of giving to others and spreading joy.
“Even though we gave them presents, they’re talking about who they can share [the presents with],” Saul said. “They are selfless themselves.”
According to Cartright, remembering the spirit of giving is important this time of year, and she hopes to keep giving in the future through the Holiday Dream program.
“A lot of community organizations and individuals come together to remind the kids that this is a season of giving,” Cartright said. “The holiday season is not only about receiving. They’re reaching hundreds of kids now, and I can only imagine as the years go by, how many kids we’re going to be changing their lives by letting them know they’re loved and supported by the community.”