With a week to go until Easter last month, 30 baskets in hand and around 3,000 plastic colored eggs filled with candy, Jami Saraullo had to think quickly: How can you salvage an Easter egg hunt without a group of hunters?
The COVID-19 pandemic made hosting an event impossible. Saraullo and her daughter, Alyssia, called an audible and on Good Friday, drove around Gloucester and Camden counties (with one stop in Salem County) to make deliveries, baskets on doorsteps and eggs hidden throughout the yards of some 30 homes.
“I had to go back through all 3,000 (eggs) and pull out the candies because of bugs, ants or if it rained,” Saraullo said with a laugh. “We filled them all back up with little toys.”
And just like that, Saraullo’s organization, SE4SK, saved Easter.
Special Events for Special Kids (SE4SK) was created by Saraullo and her teenage daughter four years ago on a bit of a whim. Alyssia Saraullo, currently a senior at Gateway Regional High School, has a close friend whose brother has Down syndrome. She thought it would be nice to have a party for similar children with special needs.
The mother-daughter team made it happen with the inaugural Winter Festival in February, 2016. They created games, played music, someone donated T-shirts and everyone brought food.
“They danced and played games and won prizes for about an hour and a half,” Jami said. “After that, parents just kept contacting me, asking when the next event was … So the next year, we did another Winter Festival and we added another event, our Fall Fun Day. And after that, it’s just snowballed.”
Event planning has required some creativity this spring and SE4SK has been up to the task. For the first two weeks of May, the organization has been hosting a virtual 5k run/3k walk. Through May 15, adults and children of all ages are encouraged to get out and get active. Through Eventbrite, participants pay either $10 per person or $30 per family, with all proceeds going toward future events for SE4SK.
“We’re always looking for donations and periodically we will post wish lists for our Cards for Kids (program) or for events,” Jami Saraullo said. “Right now, the purpose of the walk is to get kids active and get them outside, to get our volunteers up and active, as well raising awareness for SE4SK. We’re asking people to wear an SE4SK shirt, post on social media and tell people what they’re doing. That money should be going toward pop-ups over the summer.”
What’s a pop-up? One of the fun events SE4SK organizes are quick get-togethers at an ice cream shop. Posted with little notice, the first dozen or so people that respond can go join their friends for a free ice cream sundae.
Donations are also being used to boot up the Cards for Kids program, too. Since the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping the organization from getting its 150-some children with special needs (ages 3-17) together, SE4SK has been sending up greeting cards to children in the organization monthly, with stickers or tattoos included, to make sure the kids know they’re thinking about them during this time.
Anyone interested in taking part in the 5k run/3k walk can visit the Eventbrite page or the organization’s Facebook. If you miss out before May 15, SE4SK is likely going to host another virtual event, a family scavenger hunt, in June.
In 2019, SE4SK held 15 different events throughout the year and held two fundraisers, too. In addition to donations to help fund events, the organization is also always looking for volunteers.
Many of SE4SK’s current volunteers are high school-aged kids like Alyssia Saraullo.
“It’s crazy because you get to see their faces and they’re all nervous in the background not doing much (at first), but as the event progresses, you can see them interact with the kids and they have their favorites,” Jami Saraullo said. “And then they’ll come out to (more) events. It’s awesome. They’re learning how something as simple as showing up to an event can make a difference.”