S H O U T O U T : Jake Abraham got the Christmas of his young life today when a group of police officers from Teaneck and River Edge took him on a Toys R Us shopping spree, thanks to a fledgling organization that cares for the families of cops killed or injured in the line of duty.
The mildly autistic youngster — whose father, Teaneck Police Officer John Abraham, was killed in a car crash three years ago — got the Xbox games and other prized presents most kids want this season.
But he also wasn’t leaving the Paramus store without a pair of police-styled walkie talkies and a remote-controlled cruiser.
“Why are these police officers giving me gifts?” Jake asked his mom.
“Because you’re special,” Teaneck Detective Ed Kazmierczak told him.
Jake is one of 20 children from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and around the nation getting police-escorted shopping sprees this Christmas, the fruits of a labor of love by a Pennsylvania State Police sergeant.
Four of the New Jersey youngsters were taken out earlier today — among them, the offspring of Jersey City Police Sgt. Mark DiNardo, who was killed by a crazed gunman in July 2009, days short of his 39th birthday.
Mary DiNardo and her children — 9-year-old Gwen, 7-year-old Marc and 6-year-old Ella — had $1,150 to spend, thanks to the fundraising drive. “I could not have picked a better family myself,” said New Jersey State Police Trooper Gene Geissinger, who accompanied the DiNardos ( photos, below ).
Other happy youngsters were buying toys in Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Texas and Florida.
The event has its seeds in the suicide of a close friend and fellow trooper of Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. Craig Polen.
Wanting to do something meaningful, Polen just months ago created a Facebook page only for law enforcement officers.
“I thought maybe I could help other officers who are struggling and maybe keep them from committing suicide,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon.
“There are so many groups on Facebook that are made up of civilians who like law enforcement, which is great,” Polen said. “But the guys themselves don’t have many safe havens where we can talk amongst themselves.
“Many have seen or been through things that others who aren’t in our line of work haven’t,” he added. “One of our guys told a story of seeing a dead baby. He reached out and the members immediately gave him contact information and support. Another officer’s partner was killed.
“Through the page, you’re dealing with more than just the people you work with every day.”
In just four months, the group has grown to more than 8,250 civil servants nationwide and in a couple of other countries.
The idea of a fundraiser for officers’ offspring was a natural outgrowth, Polen said.
“The surviving parents of these children have to pay the bills even if money isn’t there,” he explained. “So those immediate needs must be taken care of first. Unfortunately, Christmas also gets wiped off the table and the kids are left behind.
“We’re just paying it forward is all.”
Polen created a message board for the drive ( www.leo-only.com ) and began accepting nominations.
“We were going to do 10,” he said. “Then we kept getting more and more names. So we made it 20.
“We’ve never met each other, but many of our members are still sending money,” Polen said. “It’s pretty incredible.”
In just a few weeks, the group raised $7,200 — enough to give each nominated youngster $350 for anything he or she wanted, in addition to whatever amount the locals throw in.
“We reached out to the family of an officer just outside Philadelphia, toward Landsdale, who was severely injured a couple of months ago,” Polen said. “He has three children. One is autistic. One has cerebral palsy.
“I put it out to the guys yesterday. By 10:30 last night, we had $2,300 raised for that one family,” he said. “We’re taking them Christmas shopping tomorrow. Then we’re going to give them the rest of the money to help pay their bills.”
Jake Abraham got $700 worth of gifts today, after Teaneck PBA Local 215 matched the group donation. River Edge Officer Marc Abate joined Kazmierczak and Teaneck Officers Jason Hosey and Gabriel Santiago at the Route 4 store.
“We kept it low-key because it’s the Saturday before Christmas,” Kazmierczak said. “We were afraid if we put the word out, the store would be jammed with cops.”
John Abraham, 37, was a popular officer who won several awards and made a significant number of important arrests in his 17-year career, which ended tragically when his cruiser smashed into a utility pole near headquarters, killing him, before dawn on Oct. 25, 2010.
Just hours earlier, Abraham — an India native who grew up in Teaneck — helped save a man who was choking on dinner in a local restaurant.
“I know that at times it was just easier for you to just go to work,” his wife, Martha, wrote in a memorial tribute. “I know that is where you were happiest so I let you go.
“I just always wanted you to be happy.”
As they loaded Jake’s presents into her car today, Martha Abraham ( photo, above ) smiled.
“The best part,” she said, “is that I don’t have to wrap them.”
To contact Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. Craig Polen, email him:
/ or go to:
/ or find Polen on Facebook. “We’re going to try and get together the middle of January in Newark,” the sergeant said. “We’re hoping for at least 100 people.”
PHOTOS BELOW: New Jersey State Police Trooper Gene Geissinger and the DiNardo children — Gwen, Marc & Ella
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