A police officer’s day-to-day contact with the public is not usually a pleasant one, says Weehawken Police Officer Brian Merra, because residents generally don’t call with good news. Four years ago, Merra, also the local representative of New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association (NJSPBA), tasked himself with a way to change that.
In an effort to get Weehawken PBA Local No. 15 more involved with the community, he organized a toy drive through the national Marine Corp Toys for Tots campaign. Though the toy drive was a success in its first three years, Merra wanted to ensure that the underprivileged children of Hudson County receive toys as well.
Last year, he, along with Police Officer Kayte Brancaccio, coordinated the PBA-sponsored “Cops for Tots” to an “incredible” community reception.
“The most rewarding part is knowing that underprivileged children will be able to enjoy Christmas this year.” –
As state delegate for the local PBA, it is part of Merra’s responsibilities to oversee all committees. At first, Merra said, he “did everything alone and it was a lot of work for one person to do.”
He continued, “Volunteering your time this time of year for any charity can be very time consuming, however, very rewarding.”
When Brancaccio approached him looking to become more involved with the toy drive, he appointed her chairperson of the charitable events committee.
Brancaccio, he said, is an outstanding partner because she “works hard and volunteers all her spare time to ensuring a successful drive – qualities that make [her] perfect for the job.”
Together, Merra and Brancaccio do all the collecting, separating, and distributing of the toys.
Merra also credits Numargo Vasquez, one of the EMS supervisors and “a tremendous supporter of our cause,” for helping them to set up and distribute the toys.
Bringing cheer to HC children
According to Merra, Cops for Tots collects an average of 300 to 400 gifts per year.
The toys are collected and distributed to local hospitals such as Palisades Medical Center and Hoboken University Medical Center, to the Department of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), and to the Boys and Girls Club of Hudson County.
“For me, the most rewarding part is knowing that underprivileged children will be able to enjoy Christmas this year, the idea of a new gift to open…which supplies them with some hope that things can get better,” Merra said.
Although last year they received a tremendous amount of toys in their “biggest drive yet,” Brancaccio is hoping for more involvement from the community.
The majority of their donations, she said, came from corporations like UBS Financial Services and Swatch Group and other local businesses. Merra credited the support of Hartz Mountain, who owns the property with UBS and Swatch on it, as well as Susan Valpais of Swatch Group, who collects and donates the toys to the drive each year.
Donations also come from a contest run by Ms. Sciortino at Weehawken High School, in which the homeroom that collects the most toys receives a party thrown by the PBA.
Donations from local residents are always appreciated, Brancaccio said, giving a special “thank you” to an anonymous woman last year who donated a huge load of toys to the drive.
“A lot of people struggle out there, and what better way to give back than during the holiday season?” she said.
New, unwrapped toys for children ages 0-15 will be accepted through Dec. 10 at Weehawken Police Department, 400 Park Ave. and Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad, 201 Highwood Ave.
For more information, call the Weehawken Police Department at (201) 863-7800 or the First Aid Squad at (201) 863-6611.