WEST ORANGE, NJ — Essex County is asking residents to donate nonperishable food items, gently used winter coats and unwrapped new toys in exchange for free admission to Turtle Back Zoo. The drive to benefit less fortunate families will be held from Tuesday, Dec. 8, through Thursday, Dec. 31. Because of the pandemic, zoo visitors are required to make a reservation and to wear masks.
“The pandemic has created hardships for so many people who have lost their jobs and can’t make ends meet. The requests for assistance have become so great that food pantries and other charitable organizations can’t keep up with the demands. The donations of food, coats and toys that we collect can help provide the basic necessities for those in need and bring a smile to the face of a child during this holiday season,” Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said.
“Donating to the drive at Turtle Back Zoo is a great way to give back to the community. The need is there because of the pandemic,” Freeholder Carlos Pomares said.
Nonperishable food items will be collected by the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. Winter coats will be collected by Catholic Charities. Toys will be donated to the Essex County Sheriff’s Toy Drive, the Essex County Correctional Facility Toy Drive and local shelters.
“This year we have received more requests for toys than ever. This is the season for giving and we thank the county executive for getting us involved and supporting our toy drive,” Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.
“This is an unprecedented year. Because of the pandemic and its effect on the economy, the demand for our services is up and our resources are down. We appreciate the donations we will receive from this drive,” said Peter Ruccione from Catholic Charities.
“Children of all ages look forward to receiving toys during the holidays and children whose parents are incarcerated should not be an exception. This drive will help us fulfill children’s holiday wishes,” said Deidre White, director of social services at the Essex County Correctional Facility.
Stephen Dennis from the Community FoodBank of New Jersey agreed that the support from Essex County will help fill the shelves of the FoodBank during these challenging times.
While admission is free, visitors will still have to pay to ride the carousel. It is free to ride the miniature train, which is open during the weekends. Visitors will be required to purchase tickets in advance at www.turtlebackzoo.com.