Hoboken Elks Lodge continues annual holiday party for children with special needs amid pandemic

This is the time of the year when community-based organizations hold their annual holiday parties for those that they serve. For some of these families, the gatherings are often their only source of holiday cheer.
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, these big gatherings are no longer possible. Some organizations are still doing their part to ensure that those much-anticipated holiday traditions can live on.
The Hoboken Elks Lodge holds a holiday party every year for hundreds of children with special needs and their families. The party was still able to go on this year during the pandemic, but just in a different form.
“We had Santa Claus. We had a great DJ. We had fun and games for the kids. We’ve been holding that in-house since 1984,” says Keith "Bear" O'Dwyer with the Hoboken Elks Lodge.
To keep the tradition alive, each family was able to come in for about 15 minutes. They said socially distant hello to Santa, kids received donated presents and parents received ShopRite gift cards. The families even left with a hot cocoa-making kit.
“We still wanted them to feel that same holiday spirit, even though we couldn’t do what we did in years past,” O’Dwyer says. “We were going to make something happen, no matter what.”
With many struggling financially and other fundraising events canceled throughout the year, monetary, food and toy donations have been down. But nonprofits across New Jersey are doing whatever it takes to make the holidays bright. Organizers say that this year every bit counts, and even the thought is worth so much more.
“Some kid some place around here will be very appreciative that in light of everything going on, they weren’t forgotten about. Somebody’s still out there caring about them in the community,” O’Dwyer says. “That’s what it comes about, that the community still cares.”
For those who can’t give time or money this year, charities suggest committing to volunteering next year. Many agencies also report that some donors - especially those in well-established families - are giving more since they have reduced their own expenses and are spending less.