Coronavirus News: Tunnel To Towers Foundation to support families of 5 fallen COVID-19 heroes

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation has announced five families of front line workers who will receive temporary mortgage payments through its COVID-19 Heroes Fund.

"As COVID-19 lockdowns lift and America begins to reopen, we cannot forget the brave men and women on the front lines who gave up their lives to protect ours during this unprecedented pandemic," the organization said in a statement. "The Tunnel to Towers Foundation will honor heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice by supporting the spouses and children they left behind."

The benefits will go to the families of:
--New York City police Detective Ray Abear
--Staten Island nurse Carolyn Ettinger
--New Rochelle fire Captain Andrew DiMaggio
--Passaic Firefighter Israel Tolentino, Jr.
--Paterson police Officer Francesco "Frank" Scorpo

"We are here to show these families our support not just with words, but with actions," Chairman and CEO Frank Siller said. "We want them to know that we will not forget their names or their bravery serving on the front lines of this pandemic. While no amount of money can replace the sudden loss of a spouse or parent, we hope these payments will give them the time to grieve free of this financial burden."

The foundation established the COVID-19 Heroes Fund to support our nation's frontline health care workers, first responders and military with donations of personal protective equipment, meals and -- should tragedy strike -- temporary mortgage payments for the families these heroes leave behind.

The losses have hit families across the United States, and the foundation has identified a total of 34 heroes who have succumbed to COVID-19, leaving behind young children.

The foundation will be making temporary rent or mortgage payments on the homes of these heroes, giving their loved ones a respite from worrying about this major financial burden.

Families of frontline workers are receiving support in 11 different states: New York, New Jersey, California, North Carolina, Illinois, Louisiana, Washington, Indiana, Texas, Arkansas and Florida.

New York City Police Detective Ray Abear passed away on April 13 from COVID-19. The 19-year veteran of the NYPD left behind his wife Catherine and two children, 2-year-old Jackson and 4-month-old Stella.

"I know that every loss comes with a hard and painful journey, but there's a certain comfort about being able to lean on people who understand the needs of first responders and their families," Catherine Abear said. "Between the circumstances of the world right now and the reality that the rest of my life won't be how I pictured it, things can feel overwhelming. I know that these challenges won't go away overnight, but receiving this help now gives me a moment to breathe while I figure out how to move forward."

Terre Haute, IN, firefighter and paramedic John Schoffstall passed away on April 12, leaving behind his wife Jennifer, son Jake and daughter Jaidyn.

"Our family is so appreciative of the help we are receiving from the COVID-19 Heroes Fund," Jennifer Schoffstall said. "Your gracious assistance will help bring an ease of mind to some of the worries I have as a widow, now single mother of two teenagers. This assistance will ease burdens we will encounter during this time of adjustment to the new normal of not having our hero John with us. Our family would love to thank you for all that you do, not just for us but for the other families in our situation."

Israel Tolentino, Jr., a Passaic firefighter, passed away from complications after contracting COVID-19 on March 31. The 33-year-old father of two spent 15 years as an EMT and was a first-year member of the Passaic Fire Department.

"The COVID-19 Heroes Fund means security, compassion, love, kindness and overall honor," wife Maria Vasquez said.

New Rochelle fire Captain Andrew DiMaggio lost his battle to COVID-19 on May 3. He had been with the department since 1989, serving his community for 31 years as a firefighter. He leaves behind his wife, Eileen, and three sons.

"Although we know how the foundation positively impacts the livelihood of first responders families, it now has a truly different meaning to us being a recipient," Eileen DiMaggio said. "Assisting our family to help pay our mortgage means that we can remain in the home that Andy built for us over the last 25 years. It alleviates a financial stress that will allow our family to celebrate his life. We will be eternally grateful for the generosity and compassion during this difficult time. Again, we want to thank everybody involved in this process from the bottom of our hearts."

Registered nurse Carolyn Ettinger worked as the Director of Nursing at the Verrazano Nursing Home on Staten Island before she lost her life to the disease on April 22. She leaves behind her husband Eric, and three daughters, Kiersten, Erin and Alexis.

"Thank you to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation for your kindness and generosity," her family said in a statement. "With your hard work and dedication, our family has peace of mind during this difficult time. The Ettinger family has always had a great deal of respect for this Foundation; being able to receive aid from them is a great honor to us. The COVID-19 Heroes Fund has given our family and so many others unwavering support to help us rebuild after such a great loss."

In addition to supporting these families, Tunnel to Towers has delivered more than 2 million pieces of personal protective equipment, including masks, gowns and face shields to hospitals and law enforcement departments in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Georgia, Illinois and Michigan to make sure our heroes have the equipment they need.

To date, the foundation has raised $5 million to support the COVID-19 Heroes Fund.

Anyone who would like to help the mission to support the heroes on the front lines of the pandemic can donate at Tunnel2Towers.org.

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