By Jenna Bagcal
New York City police officers, including the NYPD’s top cop, hosted an afternoon of holiday fun in Bayside for patients and their families.
Dozens of children at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children were joined by Police Commissioner James O’Neill and NYPD officers from all five boroughs Dec. 13 for the sixth annual event that featured presents, photo ops with popular characters and an appearance from Santa Claus himself.
Husband and wife team Terry and Bernice Brienza started the event in 2013 when they were brainstorming ways to spread some holiday cheer to kids who were “stuck inside” during this time of year.
“We realized that being stuck inside was kind of terrible, imagine being stuck in a hospital. So a bunch of guys got together, put money in a pool and bought some presents,” Terry Brienza said. “[We] reached out to a bunch of hospitals in the area, St. Mary’s was very opened to the idea of us coming down here and that was it. We came down, got amazing feedback from both the hospital and the cops that participated.”
He added that every year, they try to make the event “bigger and better” than the last. The Brienzas’ children participated in the holiday event for the first time this year in order for them to learn the importance of giving back to the community, according to Bernice Brienza.
“As a mother, it’s an amazing feeling to me. It’s very rewarding as a mother, as a police officer and as a citizen,” she said.
Kids and their families were treated to holiday sing-a-longs and visits from superheroes and cartoon characters including Anna and Elsa from Frozen, Mr. Met, Spiderman, Wonder Woman and MacGruff the Crime Dog. Attendees were also visited by NYPD horses and several K-9 dogs.
The fun continued outside as a motorcade of police vehicles ushered in a blue-suited Santa Claus, who delighted the crowd in an NYPD Emergency Services Unit truck. Up in the sky, an NYPD helicopter wowed onlookers with exciting aerial feats.
“I think it’s really important for the NYPD to be at St. Mary’s today,” O’Neill said. “This is my second year and it’s really inspirational for us and this is something that’s just done by the police officers. There’s no outside funding; they do it. It makes the kids feel good but it really makes the cops feel like they’re part of this community. This is important work that’s done here and we want to make sure the kids feel that people aren’t forgetting about them.”