Although distance now separates them, the Sunnyside community came together last weekend to show the Wheeler family they are not alone in their tragic loss.
Through the planning of Sunnymoms, a group of local parents who get together and share tips, and other members of the Sunnyside community, around 300 people came together on Saturday, February 23 to enjoy an evening of food, music and family activities all contributing to the Wheeler Family Fundraiser and honoring the memory of Ben Wheeler, killed inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The Wheelers were active and loved members of the Sunnyside community who moved to Newton, Connecticut four years ago with their sons Nate and Ben. Francine Wheeler was one of the founding members of Sunnymoms.
“We just wanted to help out the best way we know how,” said family friend Roger Hitts, who helped coordinate the event. “Our hearts break for them and we weren’t going to leave it at that.”
The Sunnyside Community Center was filled with families of young and old looking to help out the Wheelers while sharing a night of food and music with friends and family. Many Sunnyside restaurants donated food while other business donated services and items for the raffle and live auction.
“We’re such a tight community here so we thought we’d come and help out,” said Diana Dumitru, 29, who attended the event with her husband and son. “I know the people that organized this event really put their heart into it.”
Live music from entertainers Richard Younger and Allison Tartalia filled the room while children danced the night away or spent time at the “Children’s Corner” where they could get their faces and nails painted.
“It’s fantastic to see the community come together,” said Gail Griffin who enjoyed the night with her son and daughter. “We’re a very tight-knit community and want to do as much as we can for them.”
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer attended the event and held the live auction where he included JetBlue tickets for two lucky guests. All monies raised will go to the Ben Wheeler Fund. It was unsure as of press time how much was collected.
Although the family was not able to attend the event Saturday night, they felt the love from their native community and were moved and thankful for their friends and the community at large.
“We are grateful and deeply moved at the generosity of our friends and former neighbors in the very special community of Sunnyside. The love for Ben and the support for our family shown by the Sunnymoms and their families and friends connects us to these important people forever,” said Francine, David and Nate Wheeler.
THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano
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