Imagine this: You get home after a long day, kick your shoes off, put all your belongings down, and then notice something is very off. Your wallet is missing. You pat down every single inch of your person in hopes it’s there. No luck. You go through every jacket and coat you’ve ever owned. Still, no luck. Now you start looking in places that you know are insane, but what the hell, your wallet is missing. Unfortunately, after your sixth time of checking the freezer, it’s still not there. Losing your wallet or pocketbook is a very real scenario many of us have experienced. It’s dreadful, it sucks, it’s borderline terrifying. This is what happened to a local North Bergen resident.
In most circumstances, you will never see your credit cards or your expired Applebee’s gift card ever again. But in this town, there’s a sliver of hope to be had. On January 24th of this year, Captain Steven Hillis of NHRFR Ladder 5 was approached by four children (Alexandra Prezioso, Jocelyn Vasquez, Erick Lazaro, and Malany Lazaro). Ages 13, 13, 10, and 7 respectively. They had quite the find for Captain Hillis: a woman’s Coach bag that contained $100 in cash, credit cards, checks, and AirPods. The kids had found what could’ve been a gold mine for someone their age but they instead decided to go out of their way to reunite the bag with its rightful owner. This turned out to be easier said than done, however.
The bag, unfortunately, had no local identification in it, and tracking the owner down took a bit of detective work on Captain Hillis’ part, but eventually, it paid off. He managed to trace the owner through the individual’s employer, whose information was on one of the aforementioned checks. The woman, who lived only about a block away from the fire station, arrived promptly to retrieve her belongings and was endlessly thankful to the Captain and the four children who saved not only her finances but an appointment she had at the DMV the following day. Talk about excellent timing.
This incredible act of kindness left an immense impression on Captain Hillis, who immediately reached out to the presidents of local unions IAFF Local 3951 NHFOA and IAFF Local 3950 NHFF, and asked if the kids could be recognized officially for their selfless act. Presidents Tim Collaci and Scottie Marione were absolutely elated by the story and agreed to a ceremony.
While the union members planned away, they discovered that one of the children, Alexandra Prezioso, is actually the daughter of local firefighter John Prezioso. A fact that went initially overlooked as Alexandra made no mention of it to Captain Hillis. A truly stunning coincidence.
A call was placed to Horace Mann Elementary School, and Principal Maria Alonso was very happy to hear that her students were at the forefront of this good deed. The school and unions prepared a ceremony for February 8th, and I was invited to attend. It was a small event filled with nothing but joyous energy and cheek to cheek smiles. The kids were each given a check for fifty dollars, the funds having been split evenly by both unions.
At the end of the day, their good deed did not go unnoticed. It’s a small but poignant reminder that maybe we shouldn’t be so cynical about the future. If kids this young are willing to go out of their way to do the right thing, then it sets high hopes for the decades to come. If that won’t reignite the seeds of optimism, then I don’t know what will.