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Sunnyside Raises at Least $10,000 to Aid Family, According to Early Estimates

Photo: QueensPost

Feb. 26, 2013 By Bill Parry 

The Sunnyside community raised more than $10,000 on Saturday night for a popular family that lost its youngest member in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre on Dec. 14.

More than 350 residents gathered at the Sunnyside Community Center to raise money for the Ben Wheeler Fund, named after 6-year-old Ben Wheeler, who was among 20 children who were gunned down at school.

Ben’s parents, David and Francine Wheeler, as well as his older brother Nate, had deep community ties, as they had lived in Sunnyside for several years before moving to Newtown, Connecticut.

The organizers charged attendees $25 for an endless supply of food and alcohol that was donated by neighborhood restaurants.

The fundraiser, which went from 5 pm through 9 pm, also featured children’s music, face painting, a magician and a raffle.

Many of the same bars and restaurants that participate in most local charitable events turned out once again. Bar 43, The Dog and Duck, Sidetracks, Butcher Block, Claret Wine Bar, The Copper Kettle and Murphy’s Bar all donated food and/or beverages. Meanwhile, 99 Cent Pizza joined in, too.

Trevor Bowen, a local musician, arranged the bands. There were a lot of Beatles numbers “because they were Ben’s favorite,” Bowen said. A large contingent of children enjoyed what they heard, dancing and singing along all evening.

Kim Brown, an educational consultant who didn’t know the Wheelers personally, was a central figure in organizing the event.

“My daughter is the same age as Ben, so I identified [with them],” she said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it and had to do something.”

Photo Courtesy: Sunnyside Community Center

Brown– who joined forces with Samantha Felixbrod, Tonia Nelson and Jen Busnel–decided to follow a fundraising formula similar to what a number of Sunnysiders did last fall when they raised funds on behalf of Hurricane Sandy victims. The group Brown assembled approached the bars and restaurants to donate food, like they did for the Sandy fundraiser last year.

Sunnymoms, a parenting network co-founded by Francine Wheeler, also played a role in organizing the fundraiser.

The women spent the last two months planning the event with Rebecca Wilkins, Roger Hitts, Ty Sullivan, and Nick Reiner.  Brown said, “We just wanted to show the Wheelers that Sunnyside is thinking of them.”

David and Francine Wheeler, who were not in attendance, sent a message. “We are very grateful and deeply moved [by the fundraiser],” it read, adding, “The love for Ben and the support for our family by the Sunnymoms and their families and friends connect us… forever.”

Roger Hitts, a Wheeler family friend who served as the auctioneer, explained the reason behind the fundraiser. “People have an impression of Newtown as a collection of McMansions and that’s not the case,” he said. “They [the Wheelers] need help and we’re doing anything we can to help them.”

The fundraiser also included an auction where a range of items were sold—from opera tickets and sporting goods to teeth whitening.

The prize that generated the most buzz was two round trip tickets to anywhere in the country, which were donated by Jet Blue.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer auctioned them off for $750 and remarked on Sunnyside’s generosity.

“The thing about our community is when someone says we need help, everyone turns out,” he said.

Kim Brown added that anyone else wanting to donate can send checks to The Ben Wheeler Fund c/o Newtown Savings Bank, 39 Main St. Newtown, Conn. 06470.


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I met The Wheelers several times during
Sunnyside moms, I was heart broken when
I heard that her son had died. It was so close
To home and my family was happy to help in any way.
I feel sorry for people who don’t have
Compassion. it wasnt about where the money went, it was about supporting Someone we know.


Ruben – without the post you would just be a mouth. Are you a lemming?
Are u sure you read the article before commenting?
You assume how the parents would spend the money. How do you know?
You were not there. If not some negative comments, you ask other readers to point out number of minorities at the event.
I hope the post continues to edit your comments .

Longtime resident

Asking a question about what a fund actually is funding is not making a judgment.

The question of what the fund was funding was never answered.

It sounds as though those who were happy to participate and commenting on this post came from a good place in their hearts, but never thought to ask what their hard work and financial contributions were actually being used for. In imagining what the family could need help with financially after the loss of a child, I come up with burial expenses. It’s odd that that wasn’t mentioned as the “cause” being supported.


yeah Matt, why should people question things? shame on them, just open your pockets and stfu right?

matt c

I always regret reading the comments on this site. They rarely reflect well on Sunnyside. I’d disable them entirely.


Julie. who ISN’T experiencing financial difficulties???

Oshea’ if I lost a member of my family or my child I would use the money raised to honor them. I would use it to pay it forward, bring awareness to something, fix an issue. I wouldn’t just pocket the money because I have bills. that would be the RIGHT thing to do.

You people give money without asking, why? so it makes you feel better? you think it gets you some brownie points to God so you don’t ask? Is that why I STILL see people give that disgusting bum money?? the one who SPITS in front of food establishments and shits under the 7 train next to cars.

Maybe I need some of that medication being offered to Anonymous cuz I feel like I’m taking Crazy Pills! Or maybe I’m the only one who makes sense in this damn site.


keep trying to block my comments you hypocritical admin. I am going to bring a WORLD of truth and expose you and your slanted news site if you keep messing with my right to freedom of speech. It’s so clear you have an agenda when you erase certain people’s comments and leave others on. I have had enough of your Jimmy B brown nosing…

you have now been warned.


Yea medicate me and all the other millions of ppl who believe this was a false flag just like 9/11 continue being bahhhbahhhh sheep move along your herd is leaving


How does nicks post get approval and mine get rejected? All i said was we should hold a fundraiser for medication for anonymous.


@ SP
This was a classy event that brought people of common purpose towards supporting this family. Thanks for helping bring people out.

@ruben/ sphatesme
Do you not have a son/family? What kind of morally decayed lowlife reprobate do you have to become to state your point?

@ anonymous
You won my tinfoil hat award of the year. Wow the come up so early.
last years winner; suggested using hair spray against armed purse snatchers. :’)


Kim Brown described above exactly what the fundraiser is for. If you didn’t or don’t like what it is for that is your right.

The couple hundred people that chose out of the goodness of their hearts to pledge their time and hard earned money to a cause they believed in were all in agreement that it was a classy event.

There were no drunken displays at any time “Ice-nine”.

And “Anonymous” I’d like to meet you in person. Any time- any place. You want to stand behind your words or hide behind your computer?


I applaud helping neighbors. If people were glad to give, God bless them. And it is fair to ask what a fundraiser is for.


I agree 100 percent with SUNNYSIDEPOSTHATESME why does this family need 10 grand like seriously ppl think we’re dumb sandy hook was a hoax we don’t know the whole truth about what happened that day … Ppl die every sec who raises money for those family’s ?????? Instead of doing on this the wheelers and others should try and find out what really happened that day?? No video footage no info on the shooter supposedly there were two shooters… Lets really think about this. People!!!!!

Bliss & Skillman

If it makes the donors feel better about donating, who is to judge who or what they donate to?


The reason I didnt go to this event was because families facing this hurt dont need a boatload of cash, Im glad other people mentioned this. Especially after the drunken silliness that took place at the end of the Sandy benefit.

I think if I was the mom of this kid and if the same two blasted guys stood up at the end the Sandy benefit and held hands and sang the same “I got you babe” to lots of laughter, I’d be sick. There’s a way to do this thing with more class and in a more appropriate way.

SunnysidePoseHatesMe, you’re alright…


There are a bunch of parents who lose kids in Sunnyside all the time, nobody is raising money for them.

I don’t see how we are somehow BAD people for asking what exactly is this money for.

Native NYer

As a SunnyMom, I met Francine a few times and saw her perform several times too. I was proud to volunteer and contribute to this wonderful event.


It is in no way unreasonable to ask someone raising funds to delineate the purpose of their activity. While it is laudable that people want to help someone who is struggling, it is not clear to me that a gift of many thousands of dollars is logical in this case. As far as I can tell greenbacks can’t be pasted onto a broken heart.

Sunnyside Native

I must admit that I understand why people have questions pertaining to this fund, but in typical Sunnyside fashion, our fellow neighbors usually step up to the plate to help each other in this neighborhood, during their time of need. NOT always, but usually. Way to go, Sunnyside!

Kim Brown

Thankfully, the hundreds of people who came out in support did not ask questions. For them it was enough to know that a family (who did so much for Sunnyside) needed our help and they did what they could.

It is solely for the Wheeler family to determine what exactly they need the money for and with whom they choose to discuss that. All we can do is hope we made their lives a tiny bit easier.

We did not start the Ben Wheeler Fund but merely made a contribution to show Sunnyside cares.

Here is additional information about the Ben Wheeler Fund, and there is an explanation about where and how to donate and who to direct additional questions to:

Donate directly to: The Benjamin Wheeler Fund, c/o Newtown Savings Bank, 39 Main St., Newtown, CT 06470 or online to paypal:

This fund was established by the parents of Francine Wheeler’s music students spearheaded by Sarah Baroody.

It’s original purpose was to establish a place for these parents to pay Francine for what would have been equal to 6 months of lessons. The fund grew quickly as more friends and family wanted to help ease the financial burden on The Wheelers, and to help provide for the long term needs of their surviving child Nate.

The fund was turned over to a personal friend of Francine’s of more than 20 years, Kimberly Evans, who has been entrusted in helping with the safe collecting of funds and to make sure they are transferred directly into the fund account at The Newtown Savings Bank in Newtown CT.

Please feel free to contact Kimberly with any questions about this fund or other matters pertaining to The Wheeler Family via this page.

Much love and many thanks.


I’m not being cruel here, I honestly feel bad when it comes to kids but exactly how does one need help financially when a child dies? they are not a source of income.

I can get a memorial service, something that pays tribute or respect but money? for what exactly?


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