On Sept. 11, 2001, firefighter Stephen Siller had just finished his shift when he heard a plane had struck the World Trade Center. He tried to drive back through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it had already been closed for security purposes.
So Siller abandoned his car, put his 60 pounds of gear on his back and ran through the tunnel to assist in the evacuation of the North Tower. He was killed when the building collapsed.
Last Sunday, 35,000 people followed in Siller’s footsteps for the Tunnel to Towers 5K race. Among them were about 330 Mineola residents, members of a local charity organization, Warriors for a Cause.
“We had a total of 378 people participate in the race this year; it’s our fifth year doing it,” said Tony Lubrano, the founder of Warriors for a Cause. “We raised a little over $20,000 and we’ll probably give a little more.”
The Stephen Siller Foundation raises money to build mortgage-free smart homes for severely injured service members. One such recipient is Chris Levi, who lost his legs and suffered damage to both arms during the Iraq War. A home is being built for him in Melville and several Mineola residents are pitching in to help.
“There is David Mammina of H2M Architects, who offered to design the home; Harry Katz will do the flooring,” Lubrano said. “They’re breaking ground next month and should be finished by spring. Little by little we’re pulling together the pieces of the puzzle.”
Lubrano said he was drawn to the Stephen Siller Foundation because it uses a very high percentage of donations for charity work.
“For some groups, it’s obscene,” he said. “What attracted me to the Siller Foundation was that the family runs it and nobody takes a dime. Ninety-one cents on the dollar go to charity; that’s almost unheard of in the charitable world.”
It is one of numerous charities that Warriors for a Cause has helped to raise money for. The group was started by Lubrano to raise money for leukemia and lymphoma research. His father suffered from leukemia, but was able to extend his life for 15 years due to medical advances from the study of the disease.
“My sister Fran and I went to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and said, ‘Someone helped to give us 15 years of our dad. We want to raise $1 million for research,'” he said.
The society did not believe Lubrano and his sister, but he said they’ve raised $781,000 for research so far. The group expanded to cover other causes and joined with another group, breast cancer fundraisers Pink Crusade, to become Warriors for a Cause.
Lubrano, who is the owner of the Piccola Bussola restaurant in Mineola, said the group is filing an application with the IRS to become tax-exempt and give the group the ability to raise money on its own for any number of causes.
“If anyone has a cause close to their heart, we’ll all jump on board,” he said.