NJ neighbors surprise kids who lost their father with fully decorated house

Matteo Iadonisi Image
Friday, December 23, 2022
Neighbors surprise kids who lost their father with decorated house
Jerry Belum used to decorate the house every Christmas. When he suddenly passed away, his neighbors stepped up for his wife and children.

MAGNOLIA, New Jersey (WPVI) -- "My husband Jerry was a ginormous presence. Such a happy guy," said his wife, Lori Belum. "He did everything for us. And he just loved Christmas."

The Belums were married in 2010 and had two sons, Benjamin and Sammy. Both boys love playing flag football and their dad loved supporting them even more.

But the day after Thanksgiving, right after Benjamin scored the game-winning touchdown, an unbelievable tragedy occurred on the sidelines.

"He just collapsed... and that was it," said Lori Belum. "A ruptured aortic dissection is what they called it and it's pretty much instant death."

The Belums leaned on their family and neighbors in the aftermath. In many ways, they still don't know how to move on. But they did know one way of honoring their beloved husband and father.

The Belums took a trip to New York City to see Rockefeller Plaza, something they had planned to do with Jerry just a week prior to his death. And while they were away, neighbors got to work planning something special.

"I think I labeled it in the group chat, 'Project Illumination'," said neighbor Tracy Clancy.

The Belum's exterior Christmas decorations had already been unpacked. Jerry was planning to decorate the day he died. But neighbors huddled up to make sure his intentions came to light.

"We wanted to do what Jerry had previously done to the house," said neighbor Evan Zavatone, "But a little different because you know it can't be the exact same."

Using a photograph of Jerry's decorations last year, the neighbors completed the house to near-perfection.

And upon returning home from New York, the Belums were shocked.

"Who did it?"

"Did Santa's helpers come by?"

"They might have!"

Those voices echoed from the backseat of the car in a video taken upon arrival. And the Belums now have a little more light to guide their way through life without Jerry.

"We'll be together on Christmas and talk about him and get through it," said Lori Belum. "It'll be hard, but we'll do it and we'll laugh and we'll cry and you know, we'll be okay. Right?"

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