With the holiday season underway, the Long Beach Christmas Angels are planning their 24th annual Holiday Fundraiser, which will spotlight upcoming charitable efforts in the city.
For nearly two and a half decades, LBCA has been a pillar of support for families facing financial crises in Long Beach. Recognizing the stress that health challenges and other unexpected expenses bring, the organization is dedicated to helping residents who may not qualify for traditional aid.
In the organization’s infancy, its co-founder and executive director, Johanna Sofield, explained, it collected toys at house parties. “We would host a party, and Santa would give small gifts to the children,” Sofield said. “In return, we requested guests donate toys we would then donate to established organizations for holiday distribution.
“After 9/11, our mission changed,” she added. “We realized we could positively impact families in a more substantial way, through inspiration discovered after a simple meeting on the street.”
Noell Maerz was a Long Beach resident who worked at the World Trade Center. His wife, Jennifer, was eight and a half months pregnant with their first child in September 2001, but tragically, Noell, a bond broker, never made it home from work on Sept. 11. Friends organized a fundraiser for his wife and child, and Sofield, a friend of Jennifer’s, was listed as the contact on the flyers they had printed. A local woman stopped her while she was out for a walk, said she had seen a flyer, explained that she couldn’t make it to the fundraiser and asked Sofield if she could simply give the Maerzes $100.
“From that simple gesture, I thought, if we asked people for money instead of toys, we would be able to help local families in a significant way,” Sofield said. “So, after 9/11, LBCA evolved from a house party with toys into a fundraiser for local families.”
Over the years, the Christmas Angels, with the help of social workers from the Long Beach school district, have given over $2 million in assistance to needy families.
Organizers hope that the Holiday Fundraiser, scheduled for Dec. 8 at the Bridgeview Yacht Club in Island Park, will be a night of fun and community spirit. The event honors individuals, groups and businesses with awards for their leadership, advocacy and community efforts.
“Our volunteers help guide guests at the raffle and silent auction tables,” Sofield said. “Honorees are announced, and then the night is filled with dinner and dancing. A select few prizes are announced, along with the grand prize raffle winner before the dancing continues. Dinner is served buffet style throughout the night.”
This year, John Vitale, owner of the yacht club and co-owner of Jordan Lobster Farms, also in Island Park, will receive the LBCA Angel Award. Core 95, a Long Beach-based workout studio, is set to receive the Community Wellness Award; the Barbara Mullaney real estate team will be recognized with the Team Impact Award; and Long Beach Police Officers Joseph Brand III, Kiernan Reinhard and Brian Vais will all be honored with the Civic Guardianship Award.
The money the organization raises funds essential assistance like gift cards; enables the prevention of resident evictions through negotiation and covering overdue rent; and ensures ongoing mental health services for struggling families.
Sofield said she thinks often of all the people the Christmas Angels have helped, many of whom still attend or volunteer at the event.
“Some tragedies are permanently life-altering, such as the devastating loss of a child or spouse,” she said, “but it’s the resilience and fortitude of the many brave people I’ve met along the way through LBCA that’s a constant reminder to me that our mission over the past 24 years has helped many people in this community.”
The Holiday Fundraiser is open to the public. Tickets can be purchased at LBCANY.org. Those who are unable to attend but would like to donate can buy a grand prize raffle ticket on the website, for a chance to win $10,000. The organization is also actively seeking prize donations for the raffle table and silent auction. For event sponsorship, contact Johanna@lbchristmasangel.com.