Dec. 23, 2012 will go down in Courtney Chibarro's memory as one of the best days of her life.
"It was amazing," a tired, but happy Chibarro said Sunday night.
Chibarro's family home in South Seaside Park was high enough to escape the flood waters from Superstorm Sandy. But she couldn't stop thinking about neighbors and residents on the barrier island who weren't as lucky.
That's how "Christmas on the Island" was born. Chibarro and a group of volunteers wanted to bring some happiness to those who are still reeling from the storm, even the first responders who have stood guard over the island in the cold and darkness.
The Christmas caravan started off with a little party at Salon Allure in Toms River, where the donations had been dropped off during the week.
Then Chibarro, Santa and her helpers headed over the Thomas A. Mathis Bridge to Lavallette and Ortley Beach, where they began handing out gift cards, toys, baked items and pizza to anyone they could find.
"We stopped cars in the streets," she said. "There weren't really a lot of people in Lavallette and and Ortley Beach. Seaside Heights had everything set up very nicely. Council people and first responders were there."
"I watched grown men cry as we handed them toys," she said.
Chibbaro worked fast. Donations poured in after she came up with the idea little more than a month ago. They came from around Ocean County, New Jersey and the country.
Some area residents held "baking parties." Others wrapped gifts. The U.S. Post Office in Waretown took in items and held them for Chibarro and her helpers until they could pick them up.
"The best part of it all was pulling into South Seaside Park," she said. "To see this big tent with a Christmas tree decorated in the middle of the street..."
Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. and Township Councilman John Bacchione were on hand to welcome the caravan to South Seaside Park.
"My thanks to Courtney Chibbaro for her efforts to bring Christmas back to the island," Amato said. "Courtney put in a lot of hard work and many hours to make this event the success it was. Many thanks to those throughout New Jersey who contributed to today's event. The timing could not have been better. It was great to see dozens of local residents who are now home permanently there."