|Rusty Staub at the event|
Almost everybody attending the event looked like they were having a fun time, eating, drinking, and commiserating. Afterwards, they all sat together in the ballpark's left field stands to watch the New York Mets/San Francisco Giants game. (Unfortunately, Matt Harvey was off his game, and the Mets lost, 7-4.)
The charity was started in 1985 by Mets legend Rusty Staub. It was designed to make sure all of the families of those first responders killed in the line of duty would get taken care of for the rest of their lives.
Arielle DiCiotto, Director of Development for the Benefit Fund, told me that the charity currently helps around 600 families of fallen first responders. She said that each family gets an immediate check of $25,000, and an annual stipend of $4,000. In all, the organization has given out an incredible $130 million to the families.
|The front of the Ambelas tribute shirt.|
There are so many poignant stories here of how this terrific organization helps so many. So in order to break down how the Benefit Fund works, I am going to tell you what it means for one family.
I didn't know Lt. Gordon (Matt) Ambelas, but he lived in my neighborhood on Staten Island, and his wake and funeral were literally around the block from me. I did go to one of the viewings for him when he passed away last July. The firefighter died in the line of duty while searching for victims in a Brooklyn apartment fire.
|Margaret Gulliksen (r.) with Cido the Clown, |
who entertained the kids at the picnic.
Over 100 friends, family members, and fellow firefighters were there at the picnic in honor of Lt. Ambelas. His Brooklyn firehouse made up t-shirts for their group (see above).
I talked to Eric Bischoff about Lt. Ambelas. Bischoff is the Staten Island trustee for the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the firefighter's union, and he emceed the race. He also used to be Matt's roommate back in the day. The two were friends for over 13 years, and even vacationed together with their wives.
|Nanette Ambelas, widow of Lt. Gordon (Matt)|
Ambelas, and their daughters
Giovanna and Gabriella
My friend Margaret, who is still close with the Ambelas family, called the event "awesome," and said she appreciated what the New York Mets were doing here in hosting the day. She said that days like this help the families feel really good, and feel like they mean something to New Yorkers as a nice tribute, instead of people just saying that it was a shame that the heroes died. She said "We're all happy" for the day," but at the same time we're sad because we miss him a lot."
George described Lt. Ambelas as being an "incredible" person, and called him a great leader. He said Matt was "always smiling" and always ready to lend a helping hand to others. George described his best friend as being like the mayor of Staten Island, because he knew everyone.
|The back of the shirt|
Hearing all of these specific memories of Lt. Ambelas made me appreciate not just what a good man he was, but how his family and friends miss him so. It also illustrated why an organization like the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund is so important -- because it ensures that the memory of fallen heroes will stay alive, and that they families will get meaningful assistance for the rest of their lives.
For more information about the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, you can visit www.answerthecall.org to donate and to learn more about the organization. You can also follow them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/answerthecallnyc), Twitter (@answerthecall), and Instagram (@answerthecallnyc)