The food court is closed at Jersey Garden’s Mall, it’s hours before shoppers start filing in for the holiday rush. But hundreds of people are in the building chatting with coffee, some take in carbs, others are stretching.
“I’m out here at seven something in the morning. It’s cold outside but it’s all for Children’s Specialized Hospital. It’s all about raising awareness. I’m going to be biking it today with my upper body, a handcycle,” said 20-year-old Joe Volfman, a patient and advocate for Children’s Specialized Hospital. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at sixteen months. “I’ve been a patient for about fifteen years now. I’m actually training for the Paralympics in hand cycling and triathlon. So that’s why I’m coming out and doing what I can in representing those kids in Children’s and pushing those limits, because that’s what I’m all about.”
All of the Jingle Bell 5K registration proceeds are used to help patients at Children’s Specialized Hospital.
“It helps us with our long-term care kids. Some of which are with us from the time they are born until they’re about 21 years old. This money helps us purchase things that everyday kids need like school supplies, clothes, and socks,” said Alexis Anton, Community Engagement Manager with Children’s Specialized Hospital.
Anton says some of the kids need adaptive equipment to perform everyday skills.
“For example, we recently have a 16-year-old student with us. He unfortunately was a gunshot victim and needs an adaptive controller for his Xbox because he can’t play the way that he used to. Those are extremely expensive. So, for the holiday’s we’re going to use this money to get him what he needs,” she said.
The Jingle Bell 5K is surprisingly challenging, says Joseph McDonough, a detective with the Elizabeth Police Department and treasurer for the Elizabeth PBA #4.
“It’s at the Jersey Gardens but you don’t realize how many hills there are," he said. "You’ve got the ups and downs. It’s going good and all of a sudden here comes the challenge, there’s hills and curves. You’re by the Arthur Kill with a breeze coming off of the water so it feels about seven degrees colder than what you see on your phone."
Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage kicked off the 5K, as the runners file in at the starting line.
“Whenever you can take the time to raise money for children who have been suffering is terrific,” Bollwage said. “Later on, some of the kids are going to come here and go shopping with a police officer. They get to shop on their own and buy gifts for their parents and their friends which is absolutely terrific.”
Elizabeth detective Joseph McDonough says the police department provides gift cards for up to thirty children.
“We have uniformed officers that come in and volunteer their time. Our family members are our volunteers. We wrap the gifts, we then provide lunch for them, take a group photo with Santa,” he said.
Do parents have influence on the kinds of gifts that they get?
“Sometimes, you get a list from the parents but since the kids are on their own and the parents aren’t around, kids are kids and they deviate from that list. Now they get what they want to get,” McDonough said.
The Jingle Bell 5K is certified by USA Track and Field, the national governing body over such sports. In its ninth year, attendance and the level of athletes are growing, with over 350 participants turning out on a cold December day in support of Children’s Specialized Hospital.