Christmas came early on Saturday morning as more than 700 New Brunswick children and their families visited with Santa and were given gifts donated by local businesses, volunteers and city entities.
The Suydam Street Reformed church hosts an annual Christmas party in cooperation with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital's Community Health Promotion Program and the New Brunswick Police Department.
Saturday was the 20th year in which the celebration was held.
Mariam Merced, Director of the Community Health Promotion Program, said the gifts came from a number of donors, including the Rutgers Big Chill, the New Brunswick-based law firm of Hoagland Longo, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital staff, the police department, the church, and a number of business owners in New Brunswick.
Volunteers wrapped the gifts and arranged them into piles for boys and girls, and by age group. Each family was given a ticket with the ages and sexes of their children written down, and when turned on, was handed back a bag of appropriate gifts.
The event is open to all families of New Brunswick. Merced said that notices go out through the preschools, and word of mouth carries it even farther.
Lt. Mike Bobadilla of the New Brunswick Police Department, who is also a deacon at the church, said the line to get in starts hours before the event's 11 a.m. start.
Police officers handed out hot chocolate and doughnuts to the families in line, as well as dozens of donated winter jackets.
Inside the church, the musical group "The Shepards" performed holiday songs while families waited to receive the treasures from Santa. Pillows and blankets were also on hand this year to be handed out to the families, Merced said.
"This economy is hitting them very hard," she said.