ST. NICK MAKES AN EARLY ARRIVAL

rb-santaRed Bank Patrolman Mike Zadlock, er, Santa Claus, made a visit to the Jackson house Monday night to drop off toys as part of the police department’s toy drive. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

He ditched the reindeer and sleigh for a convoy of lights-flashing cruisers. And instead of wiggling down the chimney in the middle of the night, he simply knocked on doors just after dark.

Nevertheless, Santa Claus did what Santa Claus does best when he made an early visit to some select Red Bank families Monday when he showed up with a sack of toys and other gifts with his pals from the borough police department in the annual Policemen’s Benevolent Association toy drive.

It hardly disappointed the youngsters who came to their front doors seeing the plump, bearded man — played by Patrolman Mike Zadlock — in his plush red suit carrying a big bag filled with presents. Heather and Eduardo Soto didn’t even give Zadlock the chance to unload. The five- and seven-year-old instantly hooked their arms onto his waist and beamed with a look of surprise and happiness. Their mother, Ana Coronal, is a single mom trying to make ends meet, and the visit Monday was a welcome one.

“I was so shocked,” Coronal said. “They’re so cool for doing this.”

Although the Red Bank P.B.A. has been collecting toys for its drive for about a decade, president Bob Campanella said Monday night’s rounds through town were a new incarnation. In the past, the P.B.A. would donate the toys to local charities. This year, members were looking to make a change, so they consulted with local churches and schools, plus the borough parks & recreation department, to find out who could use a little help filling out the bottom of the Christmas tree.

“With the economy, we wanted to do as much as we could,” he said. “We know people are struggling.”

A prime example of that was at Bettina Jackson’s house, where she’s raising six children and has been out of work for more than a year. When the procession pulled up out front, the children started screaming and jumping up and down like it was, well, Christmas morning. They received a slew of gifts, from basketballs and footballs to books and action figures, which eased Jackson’s mind.

“We didn’t know where we were getting Christmas things from,” she said. “This is just a wonderful thing. It’s such a blessing.”

Campanella said after seeing the reaction to this new version of the department toy drive, it’ll probably become the standard. It can also give the other officers a chance to suit up, although Zadlock seemed to have a pretty merry time himself.

“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s why we do it. It’s a lot of fun.”