SPECIAL REPORT: The mountains of toys at the Closter firehouse grew faster than members of the “Santa Response Team” could sort them this morning, as truck after truck pulled into the bays.
This afternoon, other vehicles will take the toys to various destinations, including the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital in Hackensack, sites in Moonachie and Little Ferry, and drop-off points at the Jersey Shore and for the Wounded Warrior Project.
This year’s Bergen-area PBA Toy Drive is unlike any other.
For one thing, nearly 30 police agencies participated, the most ever. More importantly, the tragedies of Hurricane Sandy and last week’s school massacre in Newtown, Ct., increased the need — and dramatically boosted the contributions.
Closter officers lined up orange cones and directed traffic on Ruckman Road so that the vehicles that lined up with deliveries could move through.
More than two dozen area PBAs from Bergen County collected and donated toys and other items for those in need.
So did police in Orangetown, N.Y., as well as soldiers from the Teaneck Armory, who not only brought gifts but provided a military truck to transport them.
“This is great,” said Closter Police Sgt. Don Nicoletti, who helped establish the toy drive more than 20 ago and has tended to its growth into one of the largest in the Northeast.
Nicoletti moved quickly but took time to thank everyone coming in or heading out.
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.
Former Jets player Bruce Harper stopped by, as always. “Fireman Ed” was expected, as well.
Breakfast — including an omelette station — was served up by chef-to-the-stars Bob Mauer of Chef Bob’s in Closter.
Several other vendors set up outside the firehouse to feed the “SRT” through lunchtime. All donated food, time and labor.
“So many companies are donating their time and resources to help,” Nicoletti said. “These food vendors are strained from Sandy, from their own circumstances. Yet they’re doing it all for free.”
But that was just the start.
Once the deliveries stopped, the volunteers began loading everything onto the separate trucks, vans, mini buses and other vehicles bound for their various destinations.
It doesn’t end there, either.
This Friday, a mini-team of volunteers will take a delivery of toys up to Newtown, Ct., where police there will be waiting to collect them.
It originally targeted impoverished areas, but the poor economy — and, this year, both Sandy and the horror of Newtown — has created a greater need throughout and beyond Bergen.
“Remember: Those children who lost their lives have siblings. The last thing many of their parents are thinking about is finding toys,” Nicoletti told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “We’re hoping this helps.
“We wanted to do something, but we also wanted to be sensitive to their situation and not be an interference,” the sergeant added. “But we talked to a police chief up there, and he said they set up a drop-off point. We’ll be able to get in and out without bothering anyone.”
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.
Bergen County Sheriff’s Department
Chef Bob Catering
Alpine Limo Service
Deejay John Micalizzi