On Friday, June 1, members of the Police Department participated in 27 regional torch runs throughout the day with the official run ending 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.
"This year was a little bit more of a challenge for the fundraising," said Chris Scardino, coordinator for Union City's run and president of the PBA Local No. 8. "[However], when all was said and done we did what we had to do to get it done."
Union City raised about $5,000 this year with more still coming in, and West New York is also still receiving funds and has a total of $3,500 thus far.
"We're still collecting donations, but it's about $5,000 [so far]," said Officer Eugene Knabner, one of the co-chairs of Union City's run along with Scardino and Officer Angie Lugo. "We've been doing this for about 20 years now. It's for the kids."
"Our local [union] collected about $300 and put it towards the organization," said Detective Jorge Ramos of West New York, who is also the local district state delegate for the Special Olympics.
That sum was added to additional funds the West New York Police Department collected from their participation in the Polar Bear Plunge fundraiser last February, and the upcoming Plane Pull for a total of $3,500.
All proceeds go towards the Special Olympics of New Jersey.
Sweating for a good cause
Running up with the torch at about 10 a.m. via Bergenline Avenue were officers from West New York led by Mayor Silverio "Sal" Vega.
"This is the first time a [West New York] mayor has participated in the torch run, as far as I know," said Ramos. PBA President Thomas Mannios organized the West New York participation this year, and also organized a joint effort with their fellow officers in Guttenberg to run from 69th Street to 49th Street.
"It's for a good cause," said Ramos. "We also do the Polar Bear Plunge every year for the Special Olympics in February."
"It's good for morale in the Police Department," said West New York Police Director Oscar Fernandez. "We try very hard to instill that in [our officers]."
From 49th Street, Union City runners took over and ran along Bergenline Avenue until 22nd Street, where they turned onto Summit Avenue and passed the torch to Jersey City Police officers on Kennedy Boulevard. Running alongside their Union City officers were Deputy Chief Joe Blaettler and Chief of Police Charles Everett.
"This is for a real good cause and it's good for the Police Department, to boost morale," said Everett. "The pace is soft so anyone can be a part of it."
The Union City and West New York police departments have been participating in the annual run since its inception.
"We were blessed with healthy kids, and I feel as parents we have an obligation to help others," said Scardino.
Doing his part
Carrying the torch for Union City this year was retired Detective Joseph Belgiovene, who lost his sight over a year ago.
"I was bed-ridden for about a year, but now I'm back on my feet, and will do what I can," said Belgiovene. "Now I know what it is to [work through] a disability. I am hoping to do this for the kids for as long as I can run."
Belgiovene retired from the Union City Police Force in 2004, after 25 years of service. He still maintains close contact with friends in the area including fellow officers.
"I will try to take the torch and run as fast as I can. I'm hoping to finish at 22nd Street," said Belgiovene last Friday before the race. "With whatever strength I have I will do what I can. I will never quit for nothing."
Belgiovene had participated in the previous torch runs, and volunteered to be part of this year's run. According to Scardino, Belgiovene ran the first two blocks and then ran the last 200 feet to Jersey City.
Union City was among the top 10 department fundraisers in the state from 2001 to 2003.
This year, officers went around the neighborhood asking businesses, family, and friends to make donations.
"We're not done [raising money] yet," said Officer Angie Lugo. "We have until Aug. 31st to raise the money. It's very important to me and to our union."
In addition to the traditional methods of fundraising, the officers are organizing a series of upcoming events to raise additional funds for the Special Olympics including food drives.
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