S H O U T O U T: One of the largest toy drives in the Northeast is under way again, and more than 30 Bergen County police agencies hope their enormous “Santa Response Team” will build the biggest mountain of presents ever.
Now into its 24th year, the PBA Toy Drive is an act of charity that many look forward to each year.
After weeks of collecting presents large and small, officers from all of the participating departments will truck them to the Closter firehouse.
Military members also come up from the Teaneck Armory to collect presents for families of soldiers overseas.
Officers and others at the firehouse then sort the massive piles according to age and sex.
Many of the presents are then packed into a bus and a UHaul and taken to the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center and Englewood Medical Center, where they’ll be delivered by – who else? – Santa Claus.
Organizers are hoping other celebrities and popular athletes will show up, as in the past, to surprise the youngsters.
Toys also will be delivered to various other locations in the area.
Some families sponsor others — for instance, when a family is displaced by a fire or flood or someone gets sick or loses a job. Police produce a list, and a generous family buys all the presents for their neighbors in need.
The story of a man who sold everything because his baby girl had brain cancer touched now-retired Closter Sgt. Don Nicoletti, one of the driving forces behind the program sinces its inception. Police have been helping the family, including the girl’s older sister, for several years.
Another family had two children with a rare immune disorder. The officers give to the family every year.
The program originally targeted impoverished areas when Nicoletti and his department’s PBA launched the program nearly 25 years ago, but the poor economy has created a greater need in the valleys, as well.
Last year, it expanded further, to include children in Newtown, Ct., following a mass shooting, and at the Shore and various other points in New Jersey struck by Hurricane Sandy.
This year it will also include Englewood Medical Center.
There new police departments participating, as well, including Lodi’s, as well as the office of Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino, who helped sort toys at the firehouse last year.
“What makes it so successful is that it never comes back to one town,” Nicoletti said. “It has grown because of the help of so many men and women who contribute to it.”
The drive attracted officers of all ranks and their families: Last year, Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino helped sort toys, as did several police chiefs, including Dennis Kaine of Closter, Jeffrey Krapels of neighboring Norwood and Michael Cioffi of Englewood Cliffs.
Dozens and dozens of police officers, firefighters and loved ones also pitched in.
“It really makes the holidays feel right,” said one of them, Westwood Police Officer Jim Quaglino.
The organizers are asking everyone who can to drop off an unwrapped present or more at any of the police departments listed below or to participating local stores and high schools. Boxes with flyers have been placed in dozens of locations.
It’s not just about Christmas, either. What most people don’t know: Other toys go into reserve to be distributed to Tomorrow’s Children kids who come into the hospital throughout the year.
A FATHER WRITES:
“Tomorrow’s Children” held a different meaning for the grieving father who sobbed this afternoon as he told the veteran police officer at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital that his young son will die five days short of Christmas.
Bergen County Sheriff
(CLIFFVIEW PILOT photos)
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