By Connor Adams Sheets
New York Hospital Queens in Flushing was filled with a little more cheer than usual on a recent afternoon as the Freedom Medical Aid Team, or FreeMAT, gathered hundreds of toys to donate to U.S. Army units with soldiers fighting overseas.
The team collected unopened toys that residents dropped off at locations throughout the area, such as the hospital, nearby schools and City Councilman John Liu’s (D-Flushing) office, and then distributed them at several holiday parties to soldiers and families of deployed soldiers to help them provide happy holidays for their children.
“When you go to the holiday parties, it’s great to see the joy in the children’s eyes and it’s a great way to start the holiday season,” said U.S. Army Gen. John Cornelius, commander of the 80th Military Police Brigade in Uniondale, L.I., whose members will receive some of the donated toys this year. “It shows the community cares and it makes it a little bit easier on the families for the holidays.”
The U.S. Army – 99th Regional Readiness Command, based at Fort Totten, also received toys to give out to families of its deployed soldiers.
The idea came about after Sept. 11, 2001, when FreeMAT founding members, including Peter Kwiath, assistant supervisor of the hospital’s EMT-Paramedic Ambulance Division, and George Benedetto, the hospital’s director of simulation education, lost a large number of friends and colleagues in the World Trade Center attack.
“We were just sitting around drinking coffee and we were asking, ‘What can we do?’” said Benedetto. “We wanted to go over to Afghanistan as medics and they said, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ but you can do civilian support and we started just with the soldiers, then we started doing soldiers in the summer and kids for the holidays.”
The group, which also makes personal care packages to send to deployed troops every summer, has been helping soldiers ever since, increasing their efforts annually.
This year the event at New York Hospital Queens brought a wide range of area politicians, including Liu, state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), Councilmen-elect Peter Koo and Dan Halloran and Community Board 7 President Gene Kelty.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.