CLOSTER, N.J. — When it comes to others, retired Closter police Sgt. Donald Nicoletti is a man of many words, constantly doling out credit.
But when it comes to talking about himself -- specifically, the efforts that went into turning an annual Bergen County PBA Toy Drive he launched nearly three decades ago into one of the largest and most successful of its kind -- the contrary couldn't be more true.
"It's not about me," Nicoletti said. "But it has become a part of me."
Nicoletti rallied a few police officers in 1988 to help him fill a little red pickup truck with toys to bring to children with cancer and other critical illnesses at Hackensack University Medical Center.
"We were just so proud to have filled that truck," Nicoletti said with a smile.
He'll need several U.S. Army vehicles from the National Guard Armory in Teaneck, dozens of police vans and hundreds of people to help him load and deliver toys to several destinations -- among them, the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at HUMC and the Valley Hospital Pediatric Center -- as well as to other local organizations and families in need.
This year's record high of 50 PBA locals are enlisted in Nicoletti's army, known as the SRT ("Santa Response Team").
Nicoletti says none of it would have been possible without help from his right-hand man, Closter Police Sgt. Vinny Sarubbi.
Aside from making the holiday season special for sick children or families in need, Nicoletti hopes to change society's perception of police.
"From the days of Rodney King to present day, you have the ups and downs of people loving or hating police," he said. "But the truth is that we bleed the same color.
"And every year we have a group of guys who, no matter what, make the magic happen."
This year's Bergen County PBA Toy Drive is on Dec. 18.
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