A small, socially distanced gathering honored the retirement of three police chiefs while raising money for their favorite charities.
The honorees — Mike Richards of Newton, Brett Alemy of Hardyston and Pete Zabita of Byram— gathered with officers and representatives from local charities. The retired chiefs organized the event, held last Wednesday at the Mohawk House Conservatory, with Neil Spidaletto, the Sparta police chief.
More than 200 tickets were sold to the event, which was in the works all year but had to be re-invented because of limitations imposed by the pandemic. Steve Scro, owner of the Mohawk House, offered to deliver meals to ticket buyers’ homes or exchange their tickets for a meal at the restaurant at another time. But most people opted to have their money go directly to the charities. The event raised approximately $21,000.
Richards introduced his fellow retirees and talked about the newly formed North Jersey Retired Police Chiefs Association, a philanthropic organization designed to give back to communities in Sussex County.
Dean Michael Clarizio Cancer Foundation
Ret. Chief Brett Alemy’s charity of choice, the Dean Michael Clarizio Cancer Foundation, helps families pay the extraneous expenses incurred when a patient is undergoing cancer treatments.
“I was inspired by Tom Marinaro of the RHF Mortgage Company,” said Alemy. “He was very philanthropic and always donating to families dealing with the families of loved ones with cancer, and I felt compelled to continue the tradition of donations that he gave.”
Alemy donated his $7,000 allotment to Chris Clarizio, who started the foundation after his brother died of cancer in 2005.
“Many people don’t realize how many extra costs there are, including but not limited to expenses not covered by insurance,” said Clarizio. Gas, hospital stays, and car services are all “burdensome costs families incur while trying to take care of loved ones.”
Sussex County Food Pantry
Ret. Chief Zabita donated his allotment to the Sussex Help Center Food Pantry. Zabita has worked closely with Carol Novrit, the county’s director of social services, to launch the annual Cram the Cruiser food drives in 2016.
“A few years back I was in Virginia and saw police cars and officers running a food drive outside of a Shop Rite,” Zabita said. “I had noticed a lack of resources in my town of Byram in the past, and thought it was such a great idea that I worked with Carol to bring it to Sussex County.”
He said “Cram the Cruiser” played on name “Stuff the Bus,” the food drive held every fall.
The Cram the Cruiser drives have so far collected 400,000 pounds of food for struggling families.
“It has been amazing working with Chief Zabita for this cause,” Novrit said. “His passion, heart, and dedication have allowed us to feed even more families. He has the biggest heart I know!”
The next Cram the Cruiser drive will be held this weekend, the weekend before Easter, at various grocery stores in the county.
Richards Building, CLEAR
Ret. Chief Richards shared his allotment with two charities. One will help renovate the Richards Building at the Sussex County Fairgrounds, which is not only named after Richards’ grandfather but also has served as a vitally important Covid vaccination center.
“We are doing everything we can to support people getting vaccinated quickly and efficiently so that businesses and events can eventually re-open,” said Richards.
JC Cowell, a member of the fairgrounds’ executive board and Master Beekeeper, accepted the check.
“The fairgrounds does a lot to support other charities, so we really appreciate this donation,” said Cowell.
Richards also picked the Center for Prevention and Counseling’s CLEAR (Community, Law Enforcement, Addiction, Recovery) Program, which helps people recover from their addiction to opiates. The opioid epidemic reached a peak in Sussex County in 2015 and continues to be a scourge.
The donation was accepted by Becky Carlson, executive director of the Center for Prevention and Counseling, who worked with Richards to create the program.
“Over 50 people have reached out for information and support services, and approximately 20 individuals with substance use disorders, and 15 family members have been engaged in recovery coaching services,” said Carlson.
Substance abuse is a health issue, a public safety issue, and an economic issue that affects everyone, from individuals to their families and the entire community, Carlson said. “Just as addiction affects everyone, everyone benefits from helping people affected by addiction find recovery,” she said.
Richards said the CLEAR Program is “very important to me because it not only helps the community but it offers a shift in the way that people in need of help interact with and deal with the police.”
‘Life will love you back’
Steve Scro, the Mohawk House owner, said he was happy to host the event.
“Bringing groups of people together with a common cause, sharing in their passion to help and give back to the community is always something I support,” he said. “If I can be that thoroughfare and part of helping those causes, I always will. Love life and life will love you back.”
Chief Spidaletto of Sparta is president of the Sussex County Chiefs of Police and still works with the three retired chiefs and their causes.
“We are grateful to the Mohawk House and Steve and Rachel for hosting this as well as numerous other events for us,” Spidaletto said. “Steve and his wife and co-owner, Rachel, constantly give back to the Sparta and Sussex County community. They are complete givers. Their creative contributions to these events allow them to be all that more successful, we are lucky to have them support us and support the community.”