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Army general appreciates Whitestone students’ gifts

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It is not every day that generals in the U.S. Army tour schools.

But last Thursday morning students at St. Luke’s School in Whitestone were treated to just that.

Brig. Gen. Gary DiLallo of the 77th Regional Support Command at Fort Totten came to St. Luke’s to personally thank the school’s 375 children for collecting nearly $2,000 in food and supplies for the families of Fort Totten troops serving in the Middle East.

The students gathered enough deodorant, soap, toothpaste, blankets, candy and other items to nearly fill an entire truck.

“What you did is just so touching and beautiful,” DiLallo told an enthralled crowd of first- and fifth-graders at St. Luke’s, before touring the school’s classrooms. “I can’t thank you enough.”

The students at St. Luke’s participated in a new program founded by EMTs at New York Hospital Medical Center Queens called FreeMAT.

FreeMAT, which stands for Freedom Medical Aid Team, gives basic food stuffs and supplies to the families of reserve troops serving abroad.

Many reservists have taken a significant pay cut in leaving their jobs for the Army, and their families struggle to make ends meet with the loss of income.

So far FreeMAT has raised about $13,000, including the money from St. Luke’s and a $5,000 donation from state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing), said Peter Kwiath, one of its founders.

“You children are very special to us,” Kwiath told the assembly. “You helped out the armed forces a lot with the collection for Easter.”

Kwiath reached out to St. Luke’s since his child used to attend the school.

“He’s done an awful lot for us,” Principal Barbara Reiter said of Kwiath. “He’s asked us to do things, and we responded.”

DiLallo, other representatives of Fort Totten, Kwiath and fellow paramedics Freddie Noboa and Marvin Beethea gave special honors to two students at St. Luke’s.

Katie Bowles, a first-grader, and Jose Torres, a fifth-grader, both chose to write letters to the troops as part of the FreeMAT drive.

“I hope you are healthy,” Katie, a Whitestone resident, wrote to the troops. “We are sending food to you and your family. I hope when you come home you are not hurt.”

Jose, also a Whitestone resident, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I hope all of your come back safe, and there will always be a place in our hearts for you, and you will always be our heroes,” he wrote.

Both students were presented with certificates from the Army, NYHQ and a representative of McLaughlin.

DiLallo said the letters were being hung up at the command in Fort Totten.

“The letters you sent, we’re going to keep them, and they’re going to be part of our history,” he said.

Kathy Constantinou, a first-grade teacher, said all her students were excited to participate in the drive.

“This is what makes being a teacher the greatest, moments like this.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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