The President of the United States wore FDNY on his cap. The way we viewed the people who work every day to make our lives safer changed. We no longer took firemen, police and ambulance workers for granted. On Sept. 11, 2001, we learned what a hero really is.
That day, John Feal lost half of his foot. Thousands of pounds of steel crashed down, leaving Feal in the hospital for months. He beat gangrene and won the battle for his life, but was thrown into financial warfare. He defeated that too, but knew many of his fellow injured responders were on the same battlefield. So, Feal decided to help. He started the Fealgood Foundation to provide financial assistance to 9/11 responders and their families.
“I started out selling T-shirts over the internet,” Feal said in a gruff Long Island accent. “I have raised over $250,000, which sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t when you think about these people’s needs."
Feal’s plan extends beyond giving away money, the Fealgood Foundation lives up to its name. The foundation teamed up with the New York Islanders' “Charity of the Game” program to send struggling 9/11 responders to an Islanders game for free.
“These people are forever part of a fraternity,” Feal said. “9/11 responders need one day of not worrying about how their going to pay their bills. It (the Islanders game) gives them a chance to enjoy their family and enjoy each other.”
The Islanders began “Charity of the Game” four years ago with a handful of charities, they now have 41 - one for each home game. The team sells hundreds of tickets at a 45 percent discount, then the charity elects to either sell the tickets as a fundraiser or, as Feal did, give them to those they assist.
“You know, 9/11 didn’t end that day,” Feal said. “More than 7,000 responders are still being treated. Some have died. We have between eight and 12 widows (who are assisted by Fealgood Foundation), these people are still struggling. We gave gas cards to some people so they could afford to drive to the game.”
Fealgood Foundation raised near $2,000 during the game with a 50/50 raffle, were featured on the Jumbotron and Feal was given stick signed by Islanders’ players to auction off.
Stories like Feal’s happen every night at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders employ a 12 person team to handle sales and create a unique experience for each charity.
“Each charity tells their own story every day, “director of group sales Rose Barre said. “While these charities bring their organizations out to support the Islanders, our goal is to help them continue to tell their story through our Charity of the Game program. We tailor each program to fit their mission.”
The standard package includes a concourse table to promote the featured organization, the Islanders community Events Tour (ICE) at an event upon request, a formed partnership to ensure the charity receive donation items.
Other charities who partake in “Charity of the Game” include Autism Speaks, Musella Foundation, Wounded Warriors, Chabad of West Hempstead, American Red Cross, Knights of Columbus, Fealgood Foundation, Histiocytosis Foundaiton and the John Theissen Foundation.
“Each of the charities motives differ,” Barre said. “Some will purchase the tickets as a way to provide an opportunity to their families. This supports the Fealgood Foundation's mission. Some organizations enjoy the exclusive Charity of the Game partnership and exposure with the Islanders.”
The tickets, the hot dogs and rooting hard for "the beloved Islanders," Feal says, is what was most important to his organization.
“I would never sell those tickets, I don’t really know about the recognition we got from it and we didn’t earn a ton of money or anything like that, but I know I would never take that away," Feal said. "I’ve gone to a lot of funerals and held a man’s hand while he died, trust me every one of them is a hero.”
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Matthew Coller is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network, and is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at