SPOTLIGHT: Time is running out to donate to the 2012 PBA Toy Drive in Bergen County. This year, the (SRT) Santa Response Team will be adding pre-Christmas trips to Toms River and to Newtown, CT.
Collecting for the annual drive, police from more than two dozen Bergen County towns were driven by how Hurricane Sandy has upended the lives of so many youngsters and adults. They now have Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in mind, as well.
Some also have memories of delivering toys directly to ailing kids and their families.
“Mommy, it’s what I always wanted!” a 4-year-old cancer patient at The Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital in Hackensack shrieked last year, holding her new Nintendo DS game to her chest.
Several “Santa Response Team” members laughed, or smiled, but some looked down or away, holding tears at bay.
“For me, it’s the best day of the year,” Closter Police Officer Vincent Aiello told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “It’s so great to see the kids’ faces.”
The organizers are asking those who can to drop off unwrapped presents — and, new this year: non-perishable goods for Sandy victims — at any of the police departments listed below, or to participating local stores and high schools. Boxes with flyers are also being placed in various locations .
Officers from the participating departments will get their shipments to the Closter firehouse by Dec. 19, have a big breakfast at 8 a.m. that day and then load up a UHaul, mini-vans and a shuttle bus for the annual trip to Hackensack University Medical Center.
One of them, of course, gets to be Santa.
Toys also will be delivered to victims of Sandy, as well as to several charities and special programs for those in need.
The military will also come up from the Teaneck Armory to collect presents for families of soldiers overseas.
The crew expects having to open several sealed shipping boxes: Last year, people were buying things online and off television and addressing the labels to Closter Police HQ.
Some families are sponsoring other families. Various officers will produce a list, and a generous family buys all the presents for their needy counterparts.
The story of a man who sold everything because his baby girl had brain cancer touched Closter Patrolman Don Nicoletti. The youngster survived with paralysis and other symptoms. Police have been helping the family, including the girl’s older sister, for several years.
Another family, this one in Closter, had two children with a rare immune disorder. The officers give to the family every year.
Nicoletti and his department’s PBA launched the program more than 20 years ago. It originally targeted impoverished areas, but the poor economy — and, this year, Sandy — has created a greater need throughout Bergen County.
“What makes it so successful is that it never comes back to one town,” Nicoletti told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “It has grown because of the help of so many men and women who contribute to it.”
And where once it was all toys and board games, electronics have become more popular.
One little girl, her head swathed in bandages, was so excited during last year’s visit that she kept kicking her bed covers. Another boy looked in amazement at his “Rescue Heroes” toy, showing it off to anyone who looked — and even to those who didn’t.
A hospital employee with a clipboard scouted each room first, determining the need, before reporting back. Santa’s helpers instantly dug through carts loaded with presents to find a perfect fit.
Siblings weren’t left out, either: They got plenty of presents, as well.
Near the end of the visit, a young boy bolted from his room and dashed down the hallway, his smiling mom trailing behind. He caught up to “Santa” just as the elevator doors were opening.
Moments later, he returned to his room with more toys than he could hold.
“It really makes the holidays feel right,” said Westwood Police Officer Jim Quaglino.
It’s not just about Christmas, either. What most people don’t know is that other toys go into reserve to be distributed to Tomorrow’s Children kids who come into the hospital throughout the year.
TOP PHOTO: “SRT” members form a thick blue line last year at the Sanzari Hospital (CLIFFVIEW PILOT)
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