With Veterans Day behind us, after we remember and celebrate the lives of our beloved service members who actively served in defending American freedom — does the tribute end there? Not for born and bred Rockaway local, Eugene Brennan, an FDNY firefighter serving in Ladder 35 in upper Manhattan, who since 2011, has made it his business to make the holidays memorable for these American heroes through his organization, Stockings For A Cause. Last year, Brennan was able to raise $30K of which 100 percent of the proceeds went to a veteran in need, and this year, he’s hoping the community comes together to exceed that holiday gift for this year’s honoree, Mark Holbert and his family.
Brennan calls Sergeant First Class (SFC) Mark Holbert, “a true American hero.” Holbert was deployed to Afghanistan three times with no serious injury. However, on his fourth deployment in 2010, he was severely injured by an IED (improvised explosive device), which left the Green Beret a double amputee with a missing thumb and finger, along with nerve damage up his arm, and both legs gone below the knee.
According to a moving anecdote of Holbert’s story on helpingahero.org: "When the IED went off, he knew that he was injured. He saw immediately that his thumb had been amputated, and he had suffered severe damage to his hands. He did not look down at his legs, because he just knew that they were missing, so he just yelled for his Medic. Once the helicopter landed, and he was loaded on board, he realized that both legs were amputated above his knees.
Today, since his injuries, he has been relearning to walk. Holbert is a tried and true survivor. He re-certified his scuba licenses, and completed the Marine Corps Marathon, the Army 10-Miler, and the 200-mile American Odyssey relay race twice. He relearned playing golf, and is driving again."
Holbert resides in Virginia, with his wife and two children, in a house that needs to be made accessible with "smart home” features. Smart home technology helps veterans with disabilities finish regular household duties that many take for granted. Some of these upgrades include smart thermostats, which are important for veterans with amputations to help regulate body temperature; smart home security devices such as security cameras, alarms, and sensors; lighting and appliance control; and motorized furniture and appliances for veterans who have restricted mobility.
When asked why he is so dedicated to helping veterans like Holbert, Brennan said, “After a horrific time with 9/11, I wanted to turn our sadness into a festive, paying it forward time of helping our veterans who defend our country every day, thousands of miles away from their families. I am part owner of the bar, Park Avenue Tavern, (one of In Good Company’s bars and restaurants, including Bungalow Bar), and we came up with the idea of decorating the bar with holiday stockings, labeled with folks’ names who donated to a wounded warrior. Twenty dollars per stocking goes a long way to way to help our men and women who serve us dutifully.
“These men and women, while fighting the good fight, endure so many challenges to make sure we have our freedom as Americans. There are many charities out there that aid our vets, but our goal was to make sure 100 percent of the proceeds went to a vet without the deficits of administrative fees. Again, 100 percent of the money raised goes toward a vet and their family, no holds barred.”
According to Brennan, all donations received are recorded through the Rockaway Graybeards, a local 501C3 nonprofit, where donators can receive a receipt for a write off.
“I grew up watching the great people involved with the Rockaway Graybeards. I’ve seen what they have done for the community for decades, and they’ve been such an inspiration to me. And gratefully, they saw what I was trying to do with Stockings For A Cause, and got right on board," Brennan said.
According to Brennan, Stockings For A Cause grew from one participating bar to more than 25, located in both Rockaway and Manhattan. In Rockaway, participating bars and restaurants include Bungalow Bar, The Wharf, Jameson’s, Pico; and in Breezy Point, the Sugar Bowl and Kennedy’s. “Any other bars, cafes or restaurants that want to participate, we are more than happy to work with them. This is all about Rockaway coming out strong to help a veteran and his family for the holidays,” Brennan said. Anyone can head to one of the participating bars to make a donation starting at $20, and have a stocking hung in their name.
On Saturday, December 1 starting at 2 p.m., Brennan and his friend, Joseph O’Grady will be bartending at Jameson’s for a special Stocking For A Cause event. “Folks can come in and hang a stocking with their names labeled on it. All tips we collect go towards Holbert and his family. They need a ‘smart home’ and why not help to make it even “smarter!” Brennan said.
Last year, Stockings For A Cause was able to help veteran, SFC Thomas Janusz, and his family repair their home and pay some of his wife’s nursing school loans. Jamusz spent nearly 12 years in the U.S. Army, serving three year-long deployments; twice to Iraq and once in Afghanistan. As an Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team leader in Afghanistan, he was severely wounded when an IED he was disarming, exploded in his hands, leading to the loss of his left leg and left hand, along with numerous other injuries. His recovery lasted almost two years at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. “We were so happy to raise $30K for Thomas. He is a father and husband, who sacrificed himself for our freedom, thankfully, we were able to show our appreciation,” Brennan said.
So for Brennan, “Tis the season to make a difference in someone’s life. This year, we would love to raise the bar to donate $50K. It’s attainable. We just the need the community to come out strong by participating. Hopefully this will be a great event, and more importantly, make the holidays great for the Holbert family!”BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS