Courtney Chibarro was luckier than many after Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Jersey Shore on Oct. 29.
Her family home on Roberts Avenue and the dunes in South Seaside Park were high enough to keep flood waters at bay.
On Thanksgiving Day, when the chaos of evacuation had passed, she took a little time to reflect on how the storm had affected her friends and neighbors on the barrier island and the mainland. And she wanted to do something to thank the first responders and volunteers who are still helping out.
"I called some of my neighbors and friends," she said.
Chibarro asked them if they would help out with thank you cards and come up with ways to liven holiday spirits.
That's how "Christmas on the Island" was born. The event will begin at 9 a.m. on Dec. 23 at Salon Allure at 2606 Route 37 East in Toms River and end with a small Christmas caravan in South Seaside Park.
"From there it just kind of took off," she said. "Now we are getting things from all over the country. It really took off."
Salon Allure and the U.S. Post Office in Waretown are the two "dropping off points" for anyone who wants to donate gift cards, baked goods, toys and other items.
Residents can bring items to Salon Allure from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. this week.
"The owner is doing an amazing thing," Chibarro said. "She just wanted to help out. Her whole shop has become a little shop with elves."
Donations of gift cards, thank you cards, Christmas cards and items can be mailed to "Christmas on the Island," c/o P.O. Box 170, Waretown, NJ 08758. she said.
After a holiday celebration at Salon Allure, a small caravan of about three vehicles will proceed over the Thomas A. Mathis Rt. 37 East Bridge and head towards Lavallette.
"We're going to start at Lavallette and make our way down to South Seaside Park," Chibarro said. "We'll have pizzas, water, gifts, donations for volunteers, police officers, families and friends, to provide them with a little holiday cheer."
"Our main goal is to get to police officers who stand out in the cold," she said. "There's so many volunteers out there and so many families they are trying to help. There's not one person that's not deserving. Anyone over there is there for a purpose."
Berkeley Township Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. and the mayors of Lavallette, Seaside Heights and Seaside Park all support the event, she said.
"Berkeley Township has been amazing," Chibarro said. "The police chief (Police Chief Karin T. DiMichele) was amazing. She has been so supportive."
Some area residents are planning "baking parties," to make cookie gift packages. A local church recently donated 150 teddy bears, she said.
"We want to make sure everybody gets something," Chibarro said.