By Christina Fan

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – There’s help and hope this holiday for families in New Jersey as volunteers reach out to make the season brighter for those in need.

As CBS2’s Christina Fan reports, on a cold Christmas Eve, kindness warmed the hearts of people eating at a soup kitchen at St. John’s in Newark.

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The interactive holiday musical extravaganza is known as “Holiday Express,” and for 28 years, the purpose has been simple.

“We are going to bring food and the biggest holiday party you could imagine to people who, if we are not there, get little or nothing at holiday time,” said founder Tim McLoone.

Pre-COVID, the organization hosted up to 100 holiday events a year. This year, they were only able to hold 18 in-person gatherings – but made each one count, boosting spirits with a live band, hot meals, and gift giveaways.

“I like everything. I like to see people smile. Makes me happy more,” said a man named Jimmy.

“Bringing everyone together and everybody is enjoying themselves, singing songs, and everybody’s happy. You go into the new year being very happy,” said Pamela Mayes.

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Many of those in line needed to be uplifted, like Cleo Haywood, who has been homeless since Tropical Storm Ida decimated her home in September.

“Where have you been staying?” Fan asked.

“Penn Station. And I went to some of the shelters,” Haywood said.

In this season of giving, volunteers say it’s what they receive helping others that fills them with the true meaning of Christmas.

“We get more than we give. We go to places where nobody else ever goes to,” said volunteer Rocky Falotico.

Making sure no on is forgotten this Christmas.

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Holiday Express prepared enough food to serve 500 meals Christmas Eve. Everyone also walked away with a duffle bag filled with blankets, hats, and hygiene products.

Christina Fan