Local law enforcement officers donated their time and sweat a week ago Friday to raise money for the state's 23rd Annual Law Enforcement Torch Run supporting the Special Olympics New Jersey.
"This is our 23rd year participating as a department, and we basically do this every year to raise money for the Special Olympics, which caters to kids with special needs," said Officer Chris Scardino, coordinator for Union City's run and president of the PBA Local No. 8.
On Friday, June 2, police from throughout North Jersey participated in the run, which finished at the State House in Trenton for the torch lighting and opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics. The Olympics are held at the College of New Jersey in Ewing.
"It's a tradition that has been going on for some time with us," said Union City Chief of Police Charles Everett. "It's good for the children and it gives a positive image to the Police Department. That we do have compassionate hearts and we are contributing members of the community."
Union City, which has had a continuous strong record of participation, brought approximately 30 runners including officers and some civilians.
"We're very fortunate to have a great turnout," said Scardino. "About 30 people are coming out from Union City, if not more, and we will be joined by officers from North Bergen Guttenberg and West New York."
Bringing in donations
Leading the fundraising efforts once again was Officer Eugene Knabner, along with four other volunteers, who went out to collect donations from local businesses, organizations, residents, and fellow officers.
"[Donations] have been ok; not as good as in the past, but not bad, and I'm still getting checks today," said Knabner. "A lot of donations came from the local businesses along Bergenline Avenue, and some around the area of Weehawken."
Despite what has seemed to be a lower collection than most years, the Union City Police Department still remains one of the top fundraisers in the state.
Last year, Union City collected about $7,600 for the Special Olympic games, and over the course of the past three weeks has already collected about $3,000 for the fundraiser.
Donations per group and individual ranged from $10 to $500.
"We will continue collecting donations until September and giving the money [to the Special Olympics] in October," said Knabner.
Passing the torch
Runners from North Bergen made it to 49th Street in Union City at about 10:30 a.m. via Bergenline Avenue. From there, Union City's finest took over and made their way along the famous Miracle Mile until 22nd Street, where they turned onto Summit Avenue. From there, the officers continued on Summit to Fifth Street, where they turned once again to meet the Jersey City Police officers on Kennedy Boulevard, who continued on with the torch.
"I am proud of everybody in the department for coming out to help support these kids," said Scardino.
The torch was to arrive at the State House in Trenton later that evening, where they scheduled opening ceremonies for the Olympic games.
"It's a good cause; we're helping people less fortunate than us, and we try to raise money for them to make their lives a little better," said Deputy Chief Joseph Blaettler, who participates in the run every year with his officers.
"I'm donating my sweat, and I just got done playing hockey for four hours," said Blaettler.
Since 1984, thousands of law enforcement volunteers throughout New Jersey have been participating in the Special Olympics New Jersey torch run. Such events have raised over $12 million for the Special Olympics New Jersey.
The Union City Police Department also makes an annual donation of about $10,000 to Special Olympics New Jersey, and always ranked among the top 10 to 15 fundraisers in the state for the Special Olympics.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics is an international series of relays by law enforcement officers. Each year, a torch run is held in 50 states throughout the United States and in 35 countries around the world.
For more information or to find out eligibility for the Special Olympics, visit www.sonj.org, or call the Law Enforcement Sponsorship Department at (609) 896-8000. Jessica Rosero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org