This is a press release from Essex County. Press releases are official statements that have not been independently verified.

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that more than eight tons of non-perishable food, 172 gently used winter coats and 130 toys were collected at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo during the month of December. The charity drive benefitted less fortunate families and those impacted by the pandemic. In exchange for bringing a donation, visitors were given free admission to the zoo between December 8th and 31st.

“I am humbled by the amount of donations we received during our charity drive at Turtle Back Zoo. The food, coats and toys we received brought some cheer to children during the holiday season and helped support families and individuals facing difficult times,” DiVincenzo said. “These donations show the generous spirit and caring that exists in our community. We thank our visitors for their extraordinary generosity to help the less fortunate,” he noted.

The eight tons of non-perishable food (16,360 pounds) was donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, the 172 winter coats were donated to Catholic Charities and the 130 toys were donated to the Essex County Sheriff’s Office Toy Drive, the Essex County Correctional Facility’s Toy Drive and Milagros Angels of Union.

In previous years, Essex County held a similar charity drive during its Holiday Lights Spectacular, a magnificent light display held at Turtle Back Zoo that took place from mid-November to the beginning of the new year. DiVincenzo announced the Holiday Lights Display was cancelled because of the pandemic on November 12, 2020.

Operating hours for Turtle Back Zoo are Sunday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors will be required to purchase tickets in advance at To promote social distancing, a maximum of 3,200 will be admitted per day; admission will be at staggered times throughout the day. Visitors must wear face coverings and, before entering, have their temperature screened. If a person has a temperature higher than 100 degrees, they will be asked to wait 15 minutes before their temperature is screened again. While walking along the paths, visitors are asked to practice social distancing.