According to their website, Family and Friends For Freedom is a 501 (c)(3) Organization whose “mission provides financial support grants to combat wounded service men and women from all branches of the United States Armed Forces. Our severely wounded continue to fight battles here at home with their struggle to adjust to their injuries. Too often, when a service member is wounded in combat, their entire family shoulders the pain and financial burden. We help to ease the financial worries of our wounded warriors and their families during their long road to recovery.”
On Sept. 22, 2004, James Sturla was injured while serving in Iraq with the Marine Corps. He had only been deployed for eight days. His family rushed to be by his side and spent 8 weeks in the Fisher House at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland (now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center). While there, Kathy Sturla, James’ mother, saw the need of the families. She hoped to raise money to help those families.
With the support of her family and a few friends, the Sturlas launched Family and Friends for Freedom Fund on January 19, 2005, only four months after James’ injury. Their purpose was “to provide financial assistance to wounded war heroes and their families,” Kathy explained. Since that time, “the purpose has remained the same; however, it is much larger than we originally expected.”
Since its inception, Family and Friends for Freedom Fund has helped over 450 families with funds in excess of $750,000.
Kathy, a New Jersey resident, has reached out to families and veterans across the nation and in all branches of service. “We are not limited to helping Marines,” she explained.
All of the funds are raised by private donations and fundraising. The Sturlas work hard throughout the year scheduling fund raisers and finding deserving veterans and their families. “Kathy is incredible,” commented Angela Moscatello, a member of the Executive Committee and a longtime friend of the Sturlas. “She does so much.”
The Executive Committee meets each month to review the applications and make determinations as to whether the applicant qualifies and how much to grant. An application for assistance is available on their website (listed below), and applications are sometimes handed out at Walter Reed Bethesda. “We cannot wait for the day we do not need to do this anymore, and when we can turn this into a scholarship fund,” Angela mused.
One of their annual fund raisers is a Beefsteak Dinner in November of each year and held at the well renowned Brownstone in Paterson, New Jersey. To a packed house, Kathy invites speakers who have been down the road with a wounded veteran to share their stories. There is also a very extensive tricky tray with baskets donated by restaurants, businesses, private individuals, etc. This past year the baskets included NFL football tickets, Beats Headphones, a television, designer handbags, and so much more. The 2013 Beefsteak Dinner will be held on November 12, 2013, at the Brownstone. Watch the website to purchase your ticket before it sells out! It is a wonderful event.
Pictured: Gene Ferrari & Derek McConnell
In addition to the Beefsteak Dinner, several benefit shows are scheduled throughout the year. On May 12, 2012, a concert was held at the Pequannock Township High School for the benefit of two injured New Jersey soldiers, Adrian Simone of Montville, a corporal in the Marine Corps, and Derek McConnell of Parsippany, a specialist in the Army.
The next scheduled concert is at the Morris Museum/Bickford Theater on April 13, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. Gene Ferrari is performing two shows, one at 3:00 p.m. and one at 7:00 p.m. The cost of a ticket is $20.00. This will be a Las Vegas style show featuring Gene Ferrari and his Orchestra. Kathy’s son, Scott Sturla, will also perform. After hearing of his brother’s injuries, Scott wrote and recorded the song, “It’s Only Been Eight Days,” which can be heard as well as purchased on the Family and Friends for Freedom Fund website. All proceeds from the concert, as well as any sales of Scott’s song, support our wounded war heroes and their families. If you would like to attend the concert, call the box office for tickets at 973-971-3706.
Additional benefit concerts are scheduled in Rochester, NY on
April 26, 2013, and Pittsburgh, PA on August 23, 2013. Check on the website, shown below, for more information.
In addition to the concert, there will be a 5K / Half Marathon on March 24, 2013 in Pequannock, New Jersey.
The purpose of the events is to raise funds to continue their mission.
While the military will take care of a lot of expenses, the extraneous family expenses, such as a mortgage, utilities, and travel expenses beyond one round trip for three family members at the time of the injury, are the responsibility of the individual. Hero Miles, Luke’s Wings, Veteran’s Airlift Command, and others will help with flights, but travel expenses such as tolls, gasoline, train tickets, etc., are not covered. According to a link on their website, one injured Marine was able to use the funds from Family and Friends to return to Tennessee to visit his family, something he would not have been able to do without their help.
Family and Friends for Freedom Fund is always looking for volunteers to help at the events and to spread the word. Please go to their website for information:
And don’t forget to “like” the Facebook page:
Sean McConnell tries on Marine's Gear at the 2012 Beefsteak Dinner: