MORRIS COUNTY, NJ - The Morris County Sherriff's office along with the Florham Park philanthropy Halos for Angels helped make a Madison family's Christmas wishes come true. A Madison family has been helped through the tremendous generosity of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, which has made the holiday season unforgettable for the teenager and his mother, who is in recovery from breast cancer.
According to the Sherriff's office, Duvraska “Duvi” Mendoza and her 17-year-old son, Gabriel Suarez, were brought to the Morris County Correctional Facility on Friday, December 20, by Karen Casolaro, the founder of the Florham Park-based charity Halos For Angels, who kept the mother and son in suspense over the purpose of their visit.
They found Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon, Bureau of Corrections Undersheriff Alan Robinson, and more than a dozen Officers from the Bureaus of Corrections and Law Enforcement waiting for them with huge smiles and a huge, symbolic check for $4,500 to help them recover financially and emotionally.
“I don’t have enough words to say how grateful we feel,” Ms. Mendoza said. She is employed, but the cancer diagnosis that arose from her annual mammogram led to unexpected and expensive treatment, including surgeries in February and May, and other bills that couldn’t be met.
Gabriel, a high school senior, said he had no idea the Morris County Correctional Facility existed and was puzzled, at first, why he was there.
“I was not expecting something like this. I tried not to cry in front of all the Officers. When I saw the check I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know so many people would care about our story. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said.
Officers and non-sworn staff in both bureaus of the Sheriff’s Office opened their hearts and wallets to contribute $4,500 to the family – along with dozens of toys, stuffed animals, dolls, trucks, and children’s games that also were donated to Halos For Angels for distribution to other families in need of holiday cheer.
Every union associated with the Morris County Sheriff’s Office contributed to Ms. Mendoza and her son, but most of the $4,500 came from No Shave November and No Shave December fundraisers spearheaded by Corrections Bureau Corporal Peter Lenahan. During those months, Officers donated $50 apiece to sport beards on the job.
The unions that contributed to Halos For Angels, which received the $4,500 check on behalf of Ms. Mendoza and Gabriel, are: Morris County Sheriff’s P.B.A. 298 Superior Officers Association; Morris County Sheriff’s P.B.A. 298; Sheriff’s Office P.B.A. 151; and Sheriff’s Office F.O.P Lodge 137.
Sheriff’s Office Detective John Granato, who serves as the P.B.A. 298 President, presented Ms. Mendoza and Gabriel with the oversized check.
Sheriff Gannon told Ms. Mendoza and Gabriel that the Agency cares about their well-being and will always be supportive.
“This makes us feel so good. We hope it can help you out a little bit in your day. There’s always dark times in our lives, as we’ve all experienced. When you look around, you see these people who genuinely care about who you are and who your family is,” Sheriff Gannon said.
“We’re here for you. We’ll keep you in our prayers and ask that you keep all of us in your prayers,” the Sheriff said.
Karen Casolaro formed Halos For Angels more than a decade ago after her Florham Park community rallied around her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The non-profit assists families who have suffered a tragedy or are struggling with an unexpected crisis.
Ms. Casolaro was joined at Friday’s event at the Correctional Facility by her parents, Betty Gizzo and Frank Gizzo, the charity’s treasurer; Halos For Angels Vice President Cecilia Bocchino, and Volunteer Ginny Akhoury.
Several years ago, Ms. Casolaro forged a partnership with the Morris County Sheriff’s Office through which the Bureau of Corrections has been particularly involved in collecting monetary donations and gifts for the charity and in volunteering as ghoulish characters for the Halos For Angels annual Haunted House spectacle called “Fright Factor.”
Bureau of Corrections Lieutenant Andrew Bileci was honored as a special Angel by the charity in 2019.
“The Morris County Sheriff’s Office has really made such a difference and an impact that we are so thankful for. It’s such a blessing. They not only help out at holiday times but throughout the year and that’s very unique,” Ms. Casolaro said.