ELIZABETH, NJ – Law Enforcement Officers, including a team from Elizabeth Police, Union County Corrections, and Wakefern volunteers kicked off the weekend of the annual Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ) Summer Games with a fundraising Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.
The Elizabeth officers joined their colleagues in the Port Authority and US Customs and Border Protection at Wakefern’s facility in Division Street for the second leg of the statewide run that ends at the games on the campus of The College of New Jersey. More than 3,000 officers take to the streets of their communities, split up into 36 separate legs, and run to raise awareness for Special Olympics New Jersey.
“It builds camaraderie between us and other law enforcement,” explained Alexander Gonzalez, co-captain of the Elizabeth police team. “We were fortunate when the officer in charge retired and literately passed the torch to us.”
That torch is usually passed to recent graduates of the police academy. “It’s become a tradition,” explained John Londono, the other co-captain of the Elizabeth team, pointing to the team of whom many are recent grads. “We hope they come back next year on their own. It’s special to give back. We love to help and this is a good cause. It’s a big responsibility, but it is very fulfilling when you see where it is going.”
Port Authority Lieutenant Mike Sherwood knows how much work goes into a successful six-mile run. He has been organizing this leg for the last 13 years. “I got involved as a rookie and gave out medals. I ask if I could help in any way, and they said ‘sure.’”
Union County Correction officers also participated in the event and at a recent fundraiser collected over $11,000 to help Special Olympics.
Wakefern Corporation has been a corporate sponsor of the Special Olympics since its inception said Steve Hoptay, corporation’s vice president of loss prevention. “We became more involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run about five or six years ago. It kick starts the weekend.”
Hoptay further explained that Wakefern and the officers were responsible for getting all the provisions to the games. Wakefern donates the lunches. “We will serve between 14,000 and 18,000 meals this weekend.”
The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics is a major fundraising activity for Special Olympics New Jersey, raising more than $3.7 million in 2016 for the athletes of Special Olympics New Jersey.
Each town hands off the torch at the town border to police officers from the neighboring town. Here’s a list of the teams participating in the second leg that ends in Hillsborough:
Port Authority Police Dept.
Elizabeth PD and US Customs
Roselle Park PD
Union County PD
Union County Corrections Officers
Scotch Plains PD
Somerset County Prosecutor's Office
Somerset County Sheriff's Office
Hillsborough Twp. PD.
*Extra Photos Courtesy of Union County Freeholder Sergio Granados