09/09/2002 11:59 am ET
Charity widens scope after 9/11
By Patrick Mulrenin / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- In 1985, Rusty Staub was playing for the Mets in the final season of his 23-year Major League career when he read a story in the newspaper that would change his life.
The article involved a New York City police officer who had been killed in the line of duty. The part that struck Staub was that this man left behind a wife and three children, the oldest being five.
As one of the Mets' most popular players, Staub had worked with various charitable organizations and met a variety of community leaders throughout New York City. Sparked by a desire to help this widow and her children, Staub called his friend, Patty Burns, who was vice president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.
"I said, 'Look, I want to do something. Why don't you come have a meeting with me next week,'" Staub said of his phone conversation 17 years ago with Burns. "He said that he would bring the treasurer of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, Tom Rielly, and we would have lunch."
The three decided to put together a picnic at Shea Stadium, held in the left-center field bleachers, within a week to raise money for the slain officer's family. Financial leaders from Wall Street came to the picnic and agreed to sponsor Staub's new foundation: The New York Police and Fire Widow's & Children's Benefit Fund.
"It really worked out that that (picnic) was the beginning," said Staub, who is chairman of the foundation.
Months after Staub retired at the end of the '85 season, the NYPFWC became a formal foundation. In addition to donations from individuals and corporations, they have raised money through an annual picnic at Shea during the season and an annual dinner held at a Manhattan hotel in November.
Despite being born in New Orleans and spending half of his time at a house in West Palm Beach, Fla., Staub adopted New York City as his home. This year, the foundation celebrated its 17th picnic and will have its 16th dinner in 2 1/2 months.
Industry giants throughout New York City, as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will be among the honorees at this year's dinner.
"We have had, by the grace of God, some of the top people in the city take this role on," Staub said. "It's been gratifying to see so many different areas, not just Wall Street, get involved in what we're doing. These (officers and firefighters) are giving up their lives so ours will be better in New York."
The foundation had raised close to $15 million before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 occurred. People around the world heard stories of firefighters and police officers who risked their lives for the lives of others.
That day changed the NYPFWC. The scope of the foundation widened to include the families of Emergency Medical Service professionals and New York/New Jersey Port Authority police officers.
Within a week, Staub, who lived near the World Trade Center, had helped to raise $7.5 million by giving interviews to anyone that would listen, letting people know where they could send donations.
"Obviously the world found out about what we were doing," Staub said. "We went on television and radio constantly trying to tell people, 'Look, if you want to give money to these people, we're the ones you want to give it to because we have a two percent overhead and the most dollars will get in the hands of those widows and those kids if you do it through us.' A lot of people responded to that."
The response was overwhelming. The foundation received over 115,000 pieces of mail since Sept. 11. Thirty to 40 volunteers helped sort through and respond to every letter or donation that had a return address.
"It was an unbelievable task that a lot of people are owed credits for," Staub said. "Sometimes, the guys that are more visible get all of the credit, but a lot of people in the trenches did a great job."
There is one full-time worker and a few part-time people who work at the foundation. People like Staub and Stephen Dannhauser, the president of the foundation, donate their time and efforts.
In nearly one year, $116 million has been raised. Of that total, about 725 widows have split $45 million with another $10 million being sent out in October to help defray the costs of housing and medical expenses. These families will also be supported through 2009.
"It's beyond comprehension," Staub said of the donations from people all over the world. "Hopefully it didn't come unmerited and unearned because the cause was always there. We were trying to teach people about what we were doing. Sometimes it would be frustrating when corporations didn't understand that these police officers were giving up their lives so that the people in the city of New York would be
protected. If we don't have a debt to take care of those families in some form, then what kind of society are we?
"It's a terrible way to get notoriety about something that is obviously a very worthy charity."
Staub devoted the next four months strictly to raising awareness about the foundation. He has heard many of the widows' stories and said that he shares warmth, elations and always tears with them.
"One thing that I wish, there was such a credible togetherness after this terrible incident took place.
It was one of those things that people just tried to help each other more and I think we should try to remember how we felt during that period because I think we would be a better society if we continued to do it."
Anyone looking to donate to the New York Police and Fire Widow's & Children's Benefit Fund may visit the web site at www.nypfwc.org or send a check to:
P.O. Box 26837
New York, NY 10087
Patrick Mulrenin is an editorial producer for MLB.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.