Residents may have noticed hair growing from the normally clean-shaven faces of Bayonne police officers during the month of November. The coordinated fashion statement was part of a fundraising campaign for Tomorrows Children’s Fund, a nonprofit based out of the Hackensack Medical Center that provides financial assistance to families of children with cancer and blood disorders.
The fundraiser is dedicated to Bayonne resident Michael Romano, who died in 2005 at the age of 11 from neuroblastoma, a rare and incurable cancer of nerve cells. Throughout the month, police officers were encouraged to grow beards and donate $100 each, along with donations from the police unions. By the end of November, the department raised $7,500, which Michael’s mother, Sharon, accepted on behalf of the Tomorrows Children’s Fund, for which she sits on the board.
“I was beyond thrilled,” said Romano, who was expecting $1,500 less than what was raised. “For them to do a whole month, it really made a difference. When police officers, who are already in a role of respect, come out as a group, other groups follow and see that everybody is helping out a little bit in some way, shape, or form.”
The Tomorrows Children’s Fund provides financial assistance to families of diagnosed children. Because of the extreme costs of healthcare, families are often plunged into financial instability. One parent might have to take a leave of absence from work, or stop working altogether, to help care for a sick child. Necessary living costs on top of healthcare, such as car payments, mortgages, utility bills, and groceries, add up to a burden often too heavy for many families to carry.
“Families really go into crisis and it’s really hard. I actually was one of those families,” said Romano. “This comes at a really good time of the year because there are so many families who can’t even get through their daily living expenses, let alone the holiday expenses.”
Michael Romano was diagnosed when he was four and a half years old and was not expected to survive to be six. “He had a totally different agenda. He survived for seven years,” said his mother.
Michael enjoyed fishing, poker, hot dogs with sauerkraut and cheese, and baseball. He played first base at Little League and was a honorary bat boy at a Yankee game in 2000, where he stretched with Derek Jeter and hung out in the visitors’ dugout.
Romano said that seeing her son deteriorate through chemotherapy, radiation exposure, and experimental drugs influenced her to start volunteering for the Tomorrows Children’s Fund. Three years ago, she was invited to sit on the board.
“Families really go into crisis and it’s really hard. I actually was one of those families.” – Sharon Romano
Against the grain
“I’m really proud of the work the guys do,” said Bayonne Police Chief Drew Sisk of participating police officers. “It shows them that what we do goes past law enforcement.”
It was not the easiest decision for Sisk, who is admittedly strict when it comes to uniform code.
“I’m a bit of a stickler for officers in uniform being clean shaven,” said Sisk, who shaved his beard on the last day of November. The last time he sported a beard was 30 years ago, when it was “a lot darker than it is now.”
Sisk, along with the rest of the Bayonne Police Department, is back to being happily clean-shaven. “I can tell you that my wife was looking forward to me shaving,” said Sisk. “And my mother will be very happy next time she sees me to have a clean face.”
While Sisk will not miss his graying beard, many residents took pleasure in seeing new hairy faces around town.
“When I looked and saw three officers with beards, I honked my horn and said,‘thanks a lot,’” said Romano.“They probably thought I’m just some crazy lady driving on Avenue C.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.