Long Beach Christmas Angel fundraiser helps families in need

By Chris Engelhardt

“People come to this event — we support our neighbors,” Johanna Sofield said of the Long Beach Christmas Angel’s annual fundraiser, which will take place at the Bridgeview Yacht Club in Island Park on Friday, Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. “We receive a lot of positive feedback. People feel that it’s festive, and it’s for a great cause.”

Sofield, president of the Long Beach Christmas Angel, a local non-profit charity that helps raise money for local families in financial crisis in the Long Beach school district, said that last year’s fundraiser drew more than 300 people, and that she expects similar numbers this year.

The Christmas Angel has been recognized as a 501 CS organization since 2003, and has donated approximately $450,000 to dozens of local families in need. Over the years, she said, the event has continued to bring together many supporters in an effort to give back to the community. The hope this year, she said, is that the organization reaches its $500,000 mark.

The organization works with social workers from the school district and provides assistance by paying rents, utility bills, taxes, mortgages and tuition bills, in addition to supplying basic needs such as food, medical supplies, mattresses and new clothing for selected families.

“I feel that there are so many people that need assistance that struggle quietly to try to survive,” she said. “The economy is definitely putting a stress on families.”

She added, “By coming to the event, you’re supporting your neighbor. We have already assisted three families leading up to this holiday season,” she said.

Though Sofield expects this year’s event to be a successful one, a few changes have come along with the fundraiser. One change, she explained, is that the ticket price has been lowered to $100, noting that more middle class families seem to be “tightening their belts” and she wanted to ensure that those regular supporters are able to attend and enjoy the event.

In addition, this year, two of her children, Connor, 17, a senior at Long Beach High School, and Hannah, 14, a freshman there, have stepped into leading roles for the fundraiser.

Connor will host the event and make regular announcements throughout the night, while Hannah will help with “behind the scenes” work. She also helped to organize this year’s array of prizes, working with local merchants to acquire those items, and will assist with raffles at the event.

“In March of this year, for personal reasons, we re-evaluated all of our commitments and decided that we wanted to dedicate this holiday season to spending more time with our children,” Johanna Sofield said. “However, we agreed to honor our children’s request to continue assisting families in financial crisis when they articulated their reasons in a very heartfelt way.”

Connor said that he was thrilled to take a more active role in the fundraiser, and said he was shocked when he first heard his family would not hold the fundraiser this year.

“My parents wanted to focus more on the family,” he said. “But the event is important, I felt it needed to be continued. It’s something people look forward to.”

The event will include a large raffle table with many prizes, including an iPad, flat screen TV, trips to the Caribbean, a hotel stay in Manhattan, and more.

Connor said that it’s always fun to watch prize winners take to the floor during the event. “But the important thing is that people come out for the right reason, and understand where their money is going,” he said. “It’s about support. The sense of community brings people together.”

Johanna said that much like last year, many student volunteers from the national and junior national honor societies will be on hand, and the Long Beach High School jazz band will return to perform during cocktail hour.

“Children will be working during the day, and mostly seniors will be working during the evening,” she said.

Johanna said she has been pleased that the event has received an outpour of support from many — including Long Beach High School administrators, who she said has been incredibly supportive in spreading the word — and that the hard work and endless dedication of those who put together the fundraiser will make this year’s event one of the most memorable this holiday season.

“I think the word has really spread,” she said. “I’m receiving checks from people I don’t know. There are new parents I’ve met who are coming this year who haven’t come in the past. It’s really impressive.”