BENSONHURST — For over 30 years now, Reaching-Out Community Services has been doing good works in Southwest Brooklyn by offering a helping hand to those who need it the most.
On Saturday, Dec. 14, the nonprofit organization headquartered in the heart of Bensonhurst, hosted its 14th Annual Operation Christmas Smiles Event at St. Mary, Mother of Jesus Church Community Center, 2311 85th Street. The purpose of the event was to bring holiday magic to underprivileged children in the neighborhood.
There were arcade games, cookies, popcorn, candy and gifts galore for over 500 kids who were offered the opportunity to meet Santa Claus and all their favorite characters.
The children were enthralled as Santa walked the runway to the stage, hugging and high-fiving them along the way. Then, Santa disappeared as an array of Disney favorites joined together to greet the kids. Santa eventually returned to the stage as the children all lined up to meet him.
Thomas Neve, the founder and executive director of Reaching-Out, explained that the event almost didn’t happen. “To be honest with you, we weren’t going to be able to have this big event this year because it costs us thousands of dollars. We were going to cancel it until the Rotary Club of Verrazano stepped in and said they wanted to help the children in our community,” Neve told this paper.
“So, they actually financed this operation this year. And we did have some wonderful people and other organizations that held toy drives for us as well. They all helped make this event possible. But, once again, the Rotary Club of Verrazano helped save Christmas this year,” he said.
Reaching-Out began out of the back of a van in 1989, when Neve formed a homeless mobile outreach program that provided hot meals, clothing, health aids and referrals to shelters.
His program grew, and the next year, the organization moved into a small storefront space. When that grew too small, it moved to a new space in 1993, and then again in 2007, opening at 7708 New Utrecht Ave. Currently, Reaching-Out Community Services has over 9,200 people registered for its services in 16 different ZIP Codes across Brooklyn.
Reaching-Out also sponsors a back-to-school backpack give away each year as well as its Gobbler Giving program at Thanksgiving through which the organization distributes free turkeys and fixings to people in need.
Verrazano Rotary Club member and Bay Ridge Community Council President Ralph Succar spoke directly to the children. “Everything here was donated by somebody, so hopefully when you grow up you will understand what it is to donate, to help and to reach out,” said Succar.
Brooklyn resident Jean Sunvholm explained that the volunteers dressed as Disney characters hailed from Timberline College in Fraser, Colorado. “The college is in Colorado but the students are from all over the world — Germany, Austria, Mexico, Canada and all over the United States. We spent a whole week in New York City, volunteering at various places,” explained Sunvholm.
She said her group happened upon Reaching-Out last year while walking along New Utrecht Avenue. “We liked what we saw and said, ‘How can we help?’” said Sunvholm. “We helped out at last year’s event and the students wanted to come back again and volunteer this year. We’re so glad to have connected with Tom Neve and Reaching-Out,” she added.
To contribute to Reaching-Out, call Neve at 917-509-9055 or visit www.rcsprograms.org.
ebrooklyn media/Photos by Arthur De Gaeta