CLOSTER, N.J. -- Hard as it might be for some to believe, veteran police officer Don Nicoletti considered resigning a few months ago from the annual Bergen County PBA Toy Drive that he helped launch 27 years ago.
That changed amid a rising tide of negative media portrayals of law enforcement -- and an equal increase in the enthusiasm of local police officers to help ill and needy children.
"It kills me when I put on the news and I see how people treat the cops," he told Daily Voice. "In lieu of everything that's happening out there, something like this deserves everyone's attention -- ours and the public's."
Nicoletti, who recently became a school resource officer in Lodi after a decades-long career in Closter, got a boost from several East Bergen departments -- Cliffside Park, Fairview, Palisades Park and Ridgefield Park -- who enlisted in the campaign.
They hiked the number of participating agencies to 47.
"It's been crazy, crazy busy," Nicoletti said in-between calls with some of them. "It feels like we have less time this year."
Come Wednesday morning, Dec. 16, many of those officers will truck unwrapped, donated toys to the Closter firehouse, create a mountain of presents that has touched the hearts of even the most hardened veterans.
Once the gifts have been inspected and sorted by emergency responders, family members and friends, police officers from dozens of Bergen towns -- dubbed the "Santa Response Team" -- will distribute them to sick and terminally ill children at the M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at HUMC, among other locations.
"Anyone who's gone on the hospital run comes back affected," Nicoletti said. "To be able to bring that moment of joy to those kids and their families -- there's nothing like it."
Military members from the Teaneck Armory will also turn out in force again.
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.
"We try to help anybody and everybody we can," Nicoletti said. "We don't look at race or background or anything.
"The ages change, the genders change. But they all have the same thing in common: It might be their last Christmas."