More than 300 Brooklyn got to visit Santa Claus and take home gifts during Reaching-Out Community Services’ 17th annual Operation Christmas Smiles event on Dec. 17.
The event, hosted at the Reaching-Out Community Services food pantry near Bath Beach, made it possible for many low-income children in the community to celebrate the magic of the Christmas holiday by as they received presents, talked with Santa, and met characters like Mickey and Minnie and Olaf the snowman.
“The Operation Christmas Smiles event was a wonderful time for the children,” said Reaching-out Community Services founder and executive director Thomas Neve. “It was our 17th annual, and many wonderful people and organizations helped with the support for the event.”
In past Christmas Smiles parties, the Reaching-Out Community Services organization has helped over 500 Brooklyn children receive gifts and experience the joy of the holidays with the help of volunteers and community support. This year, a number of organizations — including the Dyker Civic Association, Bread Girl Bakery, and the Rotary Club of Verrazano lent their support to Operation Christmas Smiles.
“And all those who made an online donation, thank you,” Neve said at the event. “That’s how we made it all happen. You guys make it happen. We have a great community of people who are loving and caring for children, and that’s why we’re here, to put smiles on a bunch of faces … and that’s what it’s all about, to put smiles on the children’s faces at this time.”
Reaching-Out Community Services was started in 1989, when Neve purchased a van to start a mobile homeless-outreach program which provided people with hot meals, clothing, referrals to shelters and health aid. In 1992, the program had seen such success that it expanded and was recognized as an official 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The operation kept growing from there — in 2009, Reaching-Out assisted over 3,000 families with social services, food assistance and other programs. By 2015, the number rose to 6,500 families in multiple communities across Brooklyn.
Operation Christmas Smiles was designed for low income children who are members of the organization’s food pantry program — and it still serves those children today, 17 years later. Each year low-income children and their families in Brooklyn get the opportunity to celebrate Christmas without having to worry about the cost.
“It’s amazing that we’re able to still do that, provide toys to hundreds of children … we’re just so thankful,” Neve said as he and the Reaching-Out staff prepared to start handing out gifts on the 17. “We’re a small staff, but we’re making a big job happen because we’re all coming together for the common good of putting smiles on children’s faces. We’re so thankful, it’s such a great time.”
Additional reporting by Arthur de Gaeta.