CLOSTER, N.J. — Actor Dominic Chianese shook his head and smiled Wednesday afternoon as a legion of volunteers inspected and sorted thousands of presents for ill and needy children at the Closter firehouse during the annual Bergen County PBA Toy Drive.
"Twenty-seven years they've been doing this," Chainese, who played "Uncle Junior" on "The Sopranos," told Daily Voice. "You can tell when something is genuine — and this is genuine. It's extremely moving."
A record 47 law enforcement agencies united with military members from the Teaneck Armory for this year's toy drive, the Northeast's largest.
Loved ones and friends helped the “Santa Response Team” sort through a massive mountain of presents. Meanwhile, vendors served up free food and a deejay played holiday tunes that rang through the mostly industrial and commercial neighborhood.
Volunteers formed assembly lines from the fire station to a U-Haul truck, a Paramus Motorcycle Unit trailer and other vehicles arranged in formation outside.
Barbie dolls, bicycles, video games and much more were then trucked to, among other locations, the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center.
"There are guys who come year after year for this, because of what it means to the kids," Fair Lawn Police Officer Michael O'Brien said.
Fairview police were among a half-dozen new law enforcement agencies that joined this year.
“We just took it and ran with it,” said Sgt. John Perroti, whose department raised $10,500 in nine days.
Leading the team once again was Donald Nicoletti -- a retired Closter police sergeant, now a Lodi school resource -- who helped launch the drive in 1988.
“This is like a chain, and every link is what makes this chain so strong,” he said. "These men and women in blue have worked very hard.”
As is the custom, local families in need will have personal wish lists filled. They include law enforcement families who've suffered a serious illness or other hardship, including a couple from the NYPD, Nicoletti said.
By mid-afternoon Wednesday, the Paramus motorcycle unit was escorting the gift-filled trucks and police cars from Closter to Hackensack, stopping traffic at every intersection to make sure the convoy made it safely to the hospital.