When Amy Sacks Zeide held the first Amy’s Holiday Party as her bat mitzvah project, it gave gifts to 25 children at one local shelter. Now, 25 years later, the party still rages on, this year giving gifts to 1,200 children and families on Sunday.
And while that first event was a hit, Zeide says that she couldn’t have foreseen it lasting a quarter century under the mantle of Creating Connected Communities, the organization she founded and for which she serves as co-executive director.
“I was 13 years old and couldn’t have guessed I’d be doing it for more than one year,” she said. “The truth is, the agencies asked us if we were coming back next year and we said ‘Yeah!’ That’s how it happened; they asked, and we saw an opportunity to provide something special.”
By her side since that very first year is her co-executive director Dara Grant.
“My first holiday party was in 1995 because Amy and I have been friends forever, and when we’re looking back at the history, I’m proud to say I’ve been here from the beginning,” Grant said. “Now I’m working for this incredible organization and we have over 400 volunteers, as opposed to the 20 of us it was the first time.”
Like every holiday party, the gifts were a big hit Sunday, as one by one children and teen guests were paired up with volunteers and walked around tables piled high with presents, from sports balls and board games to backpacks and Bluetooth speakers. Each guest selected three gifts from the assortment.
“We continue to collect toys year-round, but we do the most toy shopping in the month of November,” Grant said. “We have sports balls, toy cars and trucks, a selection for any age. Truly, I think anyone can find something they like here.”
In addition to the ever-busy present parade, the carnival room was a hit once again, with games and activities for all ages, including face painting, arts and crafts, bouncy castles and carnival-style games. Children could also line up to get their photo taken with Santa, who was kind enough to pay the party a visit.
“This year we have a special mural [in the carnival room] to recognize the 25th year and the kids are getting to take part and add to it,” Grant said.
Specialty rooms also housed infants, teens and adults separately, with activities for them, and DJs played music to a crowded dance floor.
Between the fun, the party also provided over 1,500 lunches and sent each child home with a hat, gloves, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
For Zeide, even after 25 years, she still walks away from each and every party with the same sense of wonder.
“Every year I have children and families run up to me and give me a hug and bring me holiday cards and tell us how much this program means to them and that they feel loved because we’re here,” she said. “That’s what makes all of this worthwhile.”