If a summer day at the Jersey Shore is your idea of the perfect present, the elves at Jersey Cape Diagnostic, Training & Opportunity Center Inc. have a suggestion.
For the first time, many towns are selling full-season beach tags in time for Hanukkah and Christmas gift-giving.
The idea came to center director George Plewa as a way to keep his roughly 80 developmentally and physically disabled clients employed during a traditionally slow time at the Cape May County nonprofit, the country's largest producer of beach badges.
Depending on the municipality, recipients get a genuine tag or a facsimile to trade later for the real thing. For an additional $2, the badge comes in a ribboned gold- or silver-foil box designed by the center's workers.
Participating in the early sales drive are Avalon, Avon by the Sea, Belmar, Cape May, Long Beach Township, Margate, Ocean City, Ocean Gate, Ocean Grove, Sea Isle City, and Stone Harbor - about a third of the 34 towns for which the Crest Haven, Middle Township, agency manufactures three million badges each year.
The center usually delivers its tags in early spring, in time for the discounts some municipalities offer starting around Easter. This year, Plewa said, it has already shipped about 3,000. Most are being sold at the towns' municipal buildings. Online sales are conducted by a few resorts, including Ocean City (www.ocnj.us).
Most badges cost about $20, the same as the springtime preseason price. At the height of the summer, a tag can run $5 for a single day.
Besides aiding the training center, the campaign attracts out-of-towners who might stop for a meal or shop at a favorite summer haunt while they're in for the day.
"It's such a fun idea for a little Christmas stocking-stuffer," said Maureen McGinnis of Glenolden, who slipped down to Cape May on a recent afternoon and bought about $200 worth of badges. "We buy them anyway to have for our family and guests at our summer home, so why not make them into a little gift?"
Instead of the usual jaunty-colored seashells, starfish, and sand pails, many tags feature red and green motifs, Christmas trees, ornaments, or holiday gifts, Plewa said.
"We think that next year, as the idea catches on," he said, "even more towns will want to participate."
Avalon bought 400 gift-boxed souvenir badges and sold nearly all at its recent tree-lighting ceremony, according to borough spokesman Scott Wahl. Buyers can trade them later for the genuine article.
"People loved the concept," Wahl said.
Avalon offered the $19 tags - $5 less than last year's in-season price - to help the diagnostic center, he said.
Next year, Wahl said, the borough probably will make more available. "Avalon provides a courtesy to its beachgoers, the diagnostic center makes a couple of bucks, and everyone wins. It's a dynamite idea."
This is the third holiday season that Ocean City has sold beach badges. Also available are certificates for access to the municipal golf course and boat launch, memberships to an aquatic-and-fitness center, and other activities, said Laurie H. Howey, a city spokeswoman.
The idea is to offer "a little piece of Ocean City in the middle of winter," said Howey, who noted that the town sells genuine badges bearing the resort's starfish logo. Several hundred were purchased in each of the last two years.
With proceeds from the foil gift boxes now going to Jersey Cape Diagnostic, "we think it's an even better promotion," she said.
The project has been a huge gift to the center, Plewa said. Cape May County's roughly 15 percent unemployment rate is the highest in the state. The rate for the county's disabled residents is about double that, he said.
"There's no industry here in Cape May County," Plewa said. "Coupled with the fact that it's wintertime, it would be difficult for some of these workers to find gainful employment otherwise."
They can earn up to a few hundred dollars a week, depending on their hours. For some, he said, the work also provides meaningful activity that may help in their convalescence.