Over a thousand local kids will have a merrier Christmas this year thanks to the Holiday Hope Benefit held Thursday night at the Palms at Pelican Cove.
Hundreds of people donned their best holiday outfits to give back to the territory’s most needy children at the sixth annual benefit, which supports the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Virgin Islands, the Richard Patrick Henry Hospitality Scholarship Fund, and the Court Appointed Specialty Advocates of the Virgin Islands.
“We see so many kids on the islands that go without for Christmas, and this is just a great way for us to give back,” co-founder Peter Zachko said. “We see the kids lacking a strong family unit and this benefit is essential because we get to make them smile.”
The St. Croix Chamber of Commerce and the St. Croix Hotel and Tourism Association hosted the benefit where more than a dozen sponsors and volunteers participated. Guests were asked to pay $40 at the door, or bring two unwrapped toys valued at $20 each: the proceeds went entirely to the beneficiaries. Last year the event raised $30,000, all of which went to local kids.
In addition to silent and live auctions, where people jumped at the chance to “win” their choice of hotel stays, tourism packages, jewelry, or artwork, there was also $20 per ticket raffle, which included a free St. Croix Recycles mug and a chance to win a two-night stay in Puerto Rico.
Suzette Rojas, a board member for the Boys and Girls Club of the V.I., volunteered for the first time at the event working the raffle station and said she was happy to be giving back.
“I just really wanted to give back – I work for the Department of Human Services, and Commissioner Chris Finch really teaches everybody to volunteer their time – it’s just something we all do,” Rojas said.
The door proceeds will go directly to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, and the toys donated will be distributed to local children throughout the territory – over 1,200 kids this year are in need of Christmas, according to Cindy Clearwater from SunCelebrations who organized the volunteers.
“This benefit fulfills a really big need on the island for underprivileged children,” Clearwater said. “In the past we’ve had extra toys, but this year we actually had 1,200 kids, so they might all get distributed.”
According to the Marines, it looks like all the kids will be getting toys. Three Marines on Inspector Instructor duty in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, brought over 1,000 toys with them to the event – over three times the amount they brought in previous years.
“Toys for Tots is an excellent cause, and a lot of work goes into helping these kids who need a little light in their lives,” Sgt. Edgar Flores said. “We take pride to stop whatever we are doing for an event like this.”
The Holiday Hope committee will donate the toys to various organizations that have reached out and asked for help. In past years, they have gone to the Women’s Coalition, the Village, the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital’s Pediatric Unit, the Lighthouse Mission, and Catholic Charities.
The auction proceeds are shared between the CASA of the Virgin Islands, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the V.I. and the Richard Patrick Henry Hospitality Scholarship Foundation.
The event began in 2006 as a smaller event for the Hotel and Tourism Association, according to Zachko, who started the event with Kathryn Piper. It has grown over the years to become one of the biggest charity events of the year, he added.
“It’s huge now – every year it gets bigger and we raise more money for the kids,” Zachko said.
The President of the Hotel and Tourism Association, Julie Printy, who also manages the Palms at Pelican Cove, said the benefit is by far the biggest charitable fundraiser for the hotel.
“This is just the right thing to do,” Printy said. “We have to believe in our kids, if we do, then maybe someday they will do the same.”
Major sponsors of the Holiday Hope Benefit included the Palms at Pelican Cove, JKC Communications, Seaborne Airlines, Professional Holding Company, Caribbean Printing and Marketing, SunCelebrations, Crucian Trader, Diageo, and TV2-CBS.
To find out more about the Holiday Hope Benefit, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Holiday-Hope-Benefit-St-Croix-USVI/164132709075