TOMS RIVER – Toms River Police Officers put down their badges for one night to pick up a serving tray at the 28th annual Vest-A-Cop fundraiser on Sept. 24. Held for the 28th consecutive year at the Pizza Hut in the Kmart plaza off of Route 37, Toms River officers got the chance to mingle with the local community while serving up some pizza and a good time for all.
Organized by now-retired Dover Township officer Kelly Conklin nearly three decades ago, the fundraiser has been taken on by Patrolman Nick Franco, event organizer for the past four years.
“The whole premise behind it is twofold; it was to help support the officers because the cost of [bulletproof] vests is pretty expensive and they expire every five years…also it also gives us a chance to be with the community in more of an informal setting,” said Franco.
All proceeds from the fundraiser will go directly to PBA 137’s Vest Fund to purchase bulletproof vest for the officers, as there is a consistent need for them. The Jay & Linda Grunin Foundation will also be donating to the fund, matching all donations up to $20,000, according to Toms River Police.
As Franco noted, the vests expire every five years due to the material. As the police force continues to grow, new officers also need to be outfitted with the vests.
Vests can run the department up approximately $1,000 a piece, according to Franco, so it can be a very costly expense. “Each year it really varies, some years we only need ten [vests], some years it can be up to 30,” he added.
While there was no specific fundraising goal set for the day’s events, the officers were just hoping to have a good day with the residents who came out in support.
“I don’t think it’s too common to see police officers serving pizzas so I thought it was a pretty cool event, and it’s done so well so far,” Franco said. “It’s a longstanding tradition.”
Franco said it was “an honor” to be asked to organize the annual event. He is the fourth officer from the department to take on the challenge and he didn’t disappoint.
In addition to the police force, the local fire department and EMS were on the scene. Kids could test out the police vehicle’s sirens and see the flashing lights in a safe environment, while others got a first look at a real ambulance. Some even got to pose for pictures with the fire department’s friendly Dalmatian.
Children jumped in the bounce house, got their faces painted, and dug in on pizza with family and friends. The event was set to the music of DJ Mike West, who played tunes for those enjoying their pizza outside or taking part in the bike raffle or classic car show in the parking lot.
The weather seemed to hold out; albeit cloudy, there was no rain to dampen the party.
And it wasn’t luck that the 28th annual event also fell on “True Blue Monday.” Celebrated by schools throughout the Toms River Regional School District, “True Blue Monday” honored the local law enforcement and their dedication to the community. Students and staff donned the color blue during the school day to recognize the work these men and women do for the community each day.
According to the district, “True Blue Monday” was held in conjunction with the Vest-A-Cop fundraiser. In addition to wearing blue, staff members were encouraged to make small donations to the department’s bulletproof vest fund.
“True Blue Monday is to honor all law enforcement agencies throughout the county, state and country and in this case occurring simultaneously with the TRPD 28th Annual VEST-A-COP,” wrote Superintendent David Healy. “In terms of our regional school district, we honor and appreciate the support of Toms River, Beachwood, South Toms River and Pine Beach PDs and are indebted to each of them for their service to our respective school communities.”