STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — His is the kind of story that makes people shudder, imagine his struggles and reflect on everything they have to be thankful for: Michael Affrunti lost all his possessions in a fire. His young wife died three weeks later, leaving him alone to raise their five children, including his teenage son with special needs.
But on Staten Island, hardships like this do more than prompt a sad shaking of the head. They inspire action and philanthropy.
The New Springville father received a check for $15,000 yesterday from the Emergency Children’s Help Organization (ECHO), along with a personal gift of $3,000 from three of the not-for-profit’s board members, to cover his lingering debt from the March funeral for his wife, Angela.
The generosity of the charity organization comes alongside hundreds of other contributions and offers of help from people across the borough, sent to him through his son’s Hungerford School.
“Our prayers are with you and will always be with you. This is to make you realize people care,” ECHO chairman Sebastian Angelico told Affrunti, who clasped his hands and held back tears during a ceremony in the Advance conference room.
The outpouring of support came after an article on the Affruntis appeared in the Advance and they were featured in a segment on NY1.
“This is what ECHO specializes in; this is a situation that really involves children and families who have emergencies,” said Angelico.
In the three years since ECHO was formed by a group of friends and golfing buddies who already were in the habit of writing checks from their own accounts to help people in need, the Charleston-based organization has awarded some $125,000 to families on Staten Island and in New Jersey. The group will hold one of its twice-yearly fundraising dinners April 15 at the Hilton Garden Inn, Bloomfield (www.echoorganization.org).
Yesterday’s gift was the largest yet, because the Affruntis’ plight touched the board members so deeply, they said. ECHO board member Michael Valenzo, owner of Staten Island Met Foods, also pledged to provide groceries for the family for a year.
“I don’t have the words for it,” said Affrunti, after receiving the donation. “It feels like a relief. I can’t believe the amount of people who want to help me.”
He said he also has received about $1,600 in checks and cash — some gifts as small as $5 — sent to him care of his oldest son’s school. Thanks to the community, he said he can live without worrying about finances for a few months and figure out how to get on his feet.
“This is typical of Staten Island. We’re a borough of small communities; people like you really reach out and help your neighbors,” Advance Editor Brian J. Laline said to ECHO board members during the event. “Staten Island is a changing community and we’re embracing it.”
Indeed, the borough is the kind of place where residents really understand what it means to be interconnected, said Janet Manolakos, parent coordinator at the Hungerford School, who has received more than 100 phone calls, and even more in the way of e-mails, after an article on the Affruntis appeared in the Sunday Advance of April 3.
“People on Staten Island have — not surprisingly — stepped up to the plate,” she said. “It’s been overwhelming in a very positive way. I hope this gives the Affrunti family the boost they need to continue to stay strong.”