Every year, Bellport’s Lighthouse Mission teams up with the South Country School District’s social workers and hands out thousands of free gifts to local families in need.
Each year, the organization compiles wish-list bags filled with toys for pickup, most recently inside their Bellport location and formerly a shopping experience at the Kreamer Street Elementary gymnasium, serving over 500 South Country families, most with multiple children.
This year, the organization will also be giving away toys during their weekly food distributions starting Dec. 4 through Dec. 9. There are no stipulations and everyone who is in need is welcome.
“Due to recent inflation, we are expecting an unprecedented amount of people coming to us for help with Christmas,” said pastor Jim Ryan.
This year, Ryan expects to assist more than 1,000 underprivileged local children and teenagers. He said that although the community always seems to provide, there is always a large need for teen-aged donations.
An uncountable number of toys have been donated in years past, often allowing each parent to bring home at least two toys per child, with items ranging from teddy bears, dolls and games, to bikes and more. The parents are then able to take home those gifts, wrap them, and put them under the tree.
“It makes them feel good rather than us,” he said of the idea behind letting the parents pick up their items.
Donations can be dropped off at the mission, located on Montauk Highway in Bellport, during regular business hours. Or visit lioutreaches.com for monetary donations. Also, winter coat donations are always needed throughout the year.
Kings Kids Christian Outreach ministry leader P.J. Balzer and his wife, Catherine Gutierrez, are also at it again, with a plan to deliver hundreds of gifts to area children of over 50 families in need, including Bellport, Mastic and Shirley.
Together, the couple, serving in the name of God, has been helping the community with not just gifts at Christmas and turkey dinners during Thanksgiving, but also snacks, meals, and support for the past seven years.
Last year, donors adopted about 45 families, while Balzer and his wife took on the remaining. This year, they are requesting new toys and new clothing for both boys and girls. Everything collected will be given to specific parents that they work with throughout the year for them to be able to give to their children on Christmas.
“Catherine and myself, personally, understand the struggle people on the edges of society experience around Christmas,” Balzer said.
A few years ago, he explained, they had an unexpected and expensive car fix, a few weeks before Christmas. The funds they had set aside for their family’s gifts went into keeping their car alive.
“That’s a lot of people’s struggle this time of year, so we just roll our sleeves up and reach out to our community,” he said of why they help year after year.
As for Catherine, she said, she continues to help in the name of faith.
“Jesus said to do to others what I would have them do to me. Even though the need never ends, my faith gives me the strength to continue helping next to my husband. At least I know that I did my part to make the world a little bit better,” she said.
Still, the need isn’t just for one day a year. The need for food, he said, endures 365 days. To help, you can reach out to Balzer at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or donations.