HILLSIDE — This Christmas will be the first that Army reservist Michelle Bailey is on deployment away from her family. But she wasn't about to let a little thing like being half a world away stop her from sending home some holiday cheer.

With her three daughters at home, Bailey worked with the Hillside Police Department to have Santa pay 12-year-old Lauryn a visit.

The 4th annual Santa Express event is an opportunity for Hillside residents to ensure that the man in the big red suit brings presents to their friends and loved ones during the holiday season. The wrapped gifts are brought to the municipal building before being delivered.

Sgt. Natali Ogonowski said Santa Express "gives us an opportunity to spread the spirit and joy of the holidays while connecting with the community." Ognowski said helping out the Baily family was a special occasion.

"This year when Sgt. (Francisco) Vega told us about Michelle and her daughter, we knew we wanted to do something special for them," she said. "Military families make so many sacrifices for our country. We knew how hard it must be for Michelle and her family to be apart during the holidays."

Oganowski called it an honor to bring some holiday cheer to the young girl, and on the other side of the ocean, Bailey said the gesture was very much appreciated.

"She has been very strong since I've been gone," Bailey said of her youngest daughter. "I'm happy to have a great support system who assisted my girls with whatever they needed."

Bailey said knowing that the local police department was able to put the visit together on the last night of the Santa Express made it extra special.

"I'm just glad they somewhat put a smile on her face for the moment," she said.

Having been deployed since February, Bailey said she has missed a lot, including seeing her middle daughter, LaNiece, go to prom and then on to college. Bailey said she spoke to Lauryn by FaceTime during Santa's visit, and while she was surprised by the holiday treat, her youngest daughter had hoped it was her mother coming home early instead.

Bailey is a master sergeant in the Army Reserves, working as a petroleum supply specialist and stationed in Europe. She was born and raised in Newark before moving to Hillside, and works for the Department of Corrections when she's home.

With this being the first major holiday she was away, Bailey was thankful to at least be able to do this for her daughter.

"We are always giving to brighten someone's day, and I think God said it was our time," she said.

Bailey said she expects to be reunited with her daughters next month.

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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