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Woman holds virtual fundraiser for Franklin Square, Elmont vets’ groups

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When Gina Centauro learned that Franklin Square Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2718 and Elmont American Legion Post 1033 were struggling financially during the coronavirus pandemic, she asked locals what they could do to help. That’s when Siobhan Licastro volunteered to hold a virtual fundraiser for the veterans’ groups.

“All it took was me sharing the story, and she ran with it,” said Centauro, co-founder of the Franklin Square-based Rescuing Families Inc. “She’s done some amazing things — getting the community together to support charities in a really fun way.”

Licastro, of East Meadow, started the “In It to Win It” Facebook raffle fundraiser page in May to thank the staff at St. Mary’s Hospital in Bayside, Queens, where her now 3-year-old son, Liam, underwent feeding therapy as a baby. The Facebook group now has 840 members, and has evolved to help any number of groups, including the veterans’ organizations.

When Liam was born, he could not suck, swallow or breathe while eating, Licastro explained, and he was not gaining weight. A gastroenterologist and a pediatrician told Licastro that Liam had a “failure to thrive,” and he was diagnosed with a rare brain disorder called agenesis of the corpus callosum when he was 14 months old.

The Licastros brought him to the Feeding Department at St. Mary’s four months later, where therapists taught him to eat and taught his parents how to help him eat. But Licastro said she hadn’t noticed how well her son was eating until the pandemic hit, recounting how Liam picked up a taco shell and asked to try it.

“When all else failed for Liam, [St. Mary’s] came through,” she wrote on the “In It to Win It” Facebook page. “I want to help them now.”

Then, when Licastro recently found out about the problems the Elmont American Legion and the Franklin Square VFW faced, she said she “thought it would be great to help these halls out” with “In It to Win It,” noting her father is a Korean War veteran in the area.

The Elmont American Legion feeds and clothes veterans, and provides them with “whatever they need,” according to Bill Stegman, first vice commander of the post. But since Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all non-essential businesses closed in March, the American Legion has been unable to rent out its two halls for events, and cannot pay for the buildings’ maintenance or the veterans’ needs.

The legionnaires plan to reopen the post on Hill Avenue next month, Stegman said, and will have volunteers at the events to ensure everyone is wearing masks and social distancing. 

The facility, however, will only be allowed to hold 25 percent of its normal capacity, so “you’re not talking about a lot of people,” Stegman said. The larger of the legion’s two halls holds 110 people, 25 percent of which is about 27. 

The VFW in Franklin Square, meanwhile, normally provides meeting facilities for Cub Scout Pack 372, Boy Scout Troop 93 and BSA Venturing Crew 2718. Building President John McManamy, a Navy veteran, told Newsday that the post is losing about $7,500 a month in rental revenue, and is spending about $1,000 a month on cleaning supplies. He could not be reached for comment as of press time Monday.

“Those organizations play a big role in the communities,” said Licastro, who had raised over $1,300 for the organizations as of Monday, and was planning to hold more fundraisers for them throughout the week.

“As long as people want to play [“In It to Win It”], she said, “I’ll continue to donate.”

Licastro also received requests to support Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Franklin Square — which usually holds a feast every summer to raise money for its building costs — and planned to hold other fundraisers for summer camps that serve children with disabilities and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee, but has had difficulties contacting someone from the organization.

On the Fourth of July, Licastro also held a 50/50 raffle and raised over $500, nearly half of which was donated to Nassau County Firefighters Operation Wounded Warrior, a nonprofit formed in 2004 to help servicemen and women injured in battle. The rest of the funds were split between two local veterans, one of whom received gift cards to two local stores and the other of whom needed a new recliner with a heat and massage function to help alleviate pain.

“I don’t keep one ounce of the money,” she said, and the “more people that play, the more donations will go out.”

Licastro even donated an inflatable water slide to a family of four in Connecticut. The father was diagnosed with stomach and esophageal cancer — a diagnosis that was delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions that prevented his doctor from performing tests that would have shown the tumors earlier. Due to the delay, his treatment has been more aggressive, leaving him unable to play with his young sons who are stuck at home during the pandemic.

“I want to help those that need the help,” Licastro said. “I just think it’s important to  give back to people.”

To join the “In It to Win It” Facebook page, visit https://bit.ly/2ZJKsX9.