From Toys for Tots drives to parties for special-needs children, South Jersey’s finest are fully in the giving spirit.
By Matt Skoufalos
In December, the sound of fire engines in Camden County neighborhoods is as likely to herald the coming of Santa Claus as it is an emergency; a charming reminder of the dedication local fire departments show to the communities they serve year-round.
With Santa’s nighttime rides traditionally provided by those volunteers, their brothers in blue have found other ways to celebrate the season, and whether big or small, the gestures are always well-received.
In Cherry Hill, FOP Lodge #28 hosted its 40th annual holiday party for special-needs children at the Crowne Plaza hotel on Monday.
The house was packed, with some 700 guests drawn from a variety of South Jersey institutions, including Bancroft, Archway, and St. John of God, as well as from the local public school districts.
“It’s a way for us to give back to the community; to help people in need of a smile for the holidays,” said Cherry Hill Lt. William Kushina.
“Some could dance the entire time they’re here,” he said.
“It’s fun to see them come out of their shell.”
The event was staffed by student volunteers from Cherry Hill East and West High Schools and another 20 township police officers.
Children enjoyed a deejay, therapy dogs, take-home gifts, and a visit from the Phillie Phanatic.
Stephanie Brooks, wife of retired Cherry Hill Detective Kyle Brooks, said the tradition began more than 50 years ago as a gesture to a local family with two special-needs children, and then expanded into a popular annul tradition.
Mary Rose Ruggieri, who teaches special-needs children at Rosa Middle School in Cherry Hill, said the event is “just a day where our kids can have fun.”
“[They don’t] worry about the pressure of school,” she said; “[they get to]see what it’s like to go to a big party and dance.
“I think it’s a great way for the community to see what our kids are like,” Ruggieri said.
In Collingswood, officers partnered with the local headquarters of the Volunteers of America Delaware Valley to adopt a local family in need, said Police Chief Kevin Carey.
“The men and women of the department donated money and purchased gifts to bring cheer and joy to a family this holiday season that otherwise would not have happened,” Carey said.
This week, members of Haddon PBA #257, which comprises officers from the Haddon Township and Oaklyn Police Departments, delivered a carload of gifts to be distributed to children admitted to Virtua Hospital Voorhees over the holiday.
“It is a yearly tradition we enjoy very much,” said Oaklyn Sgt. Craig Stauts. “The group of officers took time out of their busy schedules in hopes of brightening the moods of the children and their families while they heal.”
Camden County Metro Police also participated in the holiday outreach, partnering with Nexxt Level Sports Foundation and FOP Lodge #218 to deliver volunteer-purchased and wrapped holiday gifts to 20 needy families in Camden City.
“We are glad to participate in this special event to bring some much-needed cheer to some great families in Camden County this year,” said Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. in a statement.