For most of the year Sgt. Joseph Markulic of the Howell Township Police Department is charged with leading the traffic safety division. Once a year he gets to turn his attention to helping a Howell resident affected by brain injuries during the holiday season.
In the past, Markulic said he has selected residents who have suffered their injuries as the result of a car accident, but this year's recipient was a recommendation from the New Jersey Brain Injury Association. "A lot of people don't realize that there are people living with brain injuries," he said. "Once you have a brain injury, you always have a brain injury."
For the third year in a row, Markulic is collecting items for a family ranging from a new furnace to daily need items. Markulic said the woman named Maria was working as a home health aide when she fell down a flight of stairs. The single mother of a 13-year-old son has had continuous complications from the fall including difficulty speaking, problems seeing and vertigo as well as headaches.
Since the time of her injury, Markulic said Maria has been unable to work and has struggled to make ends meet on her Social Security disability insurance. These are just some of the reasons why he felt it was important to help them get through this holiday season. "That's where I want to come in, you do some of the things that she would normally do for her kid and at least maybe put some money somewhere else at least for this year," he said.
Supporting her family has become even more difficult recently as Markulic said Maria had a fall in which she broke her ankle in three places.
Even in these tough economic times, Markulic said that not only have the residents of Howell been willing to help but they have also received donations from well outside of the township's borders. "We've got a great community," he said. "The law enforcement and our community, we get along really well."
From the residents to the businesses in town, Markulic said he has gotten donations from all different sources over the past three years. He also knows the donations he gets are not the only ones being given during these important times. "I'm not the only one in town that helps out," he said. "There's other organizations and from what I hear they're willing to help everybody out."
Markulic said even in the relatively short time he has been doing this project he has seen how much it has helped the people from year to year. That includes last year's , who is now doing her part to help others.
Over the past year Amara Riccio has started her organization, taking her love of art to make care packages and other items designed to lift the spirits of the people that receive them. She has also gone to to talk to students about how her injury has impacted her life.
Seeing her efforts, he said makes what he has done over the past few years even more memorable. "It makes me happy because most people, when I first meet them they're kind of down. They don't know what direction they're going to go and they don't realize that people out there care," he said.
In addition to the Riccio family, Markulic said the first recipient went from living in a basement to recently buying a condo of her own. The Howell officer said just because the collection is done does not mean they are out of his life. "I consider them part of my family and they'll always be part of the Howell Police," he said. "We keep that relationship."
With much of his time spent investigating car accidents or distributing traffic violations, Markulic said this time of year is a welcome change of pace. "If you can make one family smile, to me that's a great thing."
Markulic said there are many items that can be donated to help the family including a new laptop, XXL clothing for Maria's son, anything relating to the Giants or Yankees as well as gift cards for restaurants and food. Cash donations are also being accepted. The collected items will then be delivered to the family on Christmas Eve.
There are several ways to make donations to the family. They can be sent through at Good News International. The address there is PO Box 380, Howell NJ 07731. They can also be sent to Sgt. Markulic at . The mailing address for the department is PO Box 580, Howell NJ 07731.