By Jill Saftel, News Staff
Most Northeastern students will recall Anthony Bitetto from his days on the Matthews Arena ice. They will remember him as a former Husky hockey player. As a philanthropist? Not so much. But when Hurricane Sandy hit Bitetto’s hometown and caused devastating damage, the Northeastern alumnus set up his own fund to raise money for his community.
Originally from Island Park, N.Y., on Long Island, Bitetto was a part of Northeastern’s men’s hockey team until the end of his sophomore year, when he left school to pursue professional hockey. He was drafted in 2010 by the Nashville Predators, and the 22-year-old defenseman currently plays with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League. This placed him almost 1,000 miles from his hometown and family when Hurricane Sandy hit Island Park.
“It’s takes a toll on you, there’s not much you can do from far away,” Bitetto said. “I wanted to do as much as I could from out here.”
Distance left him in the dark as New York felt the hurricane’s effects. After contacting his mom the night of the storm, Bitetto learned that rain was falling hard before she told him there was water filling their basement and she had to go.
He was unable to talk to her or any family members for the rest of the night because of downed power lines and little to no cellphone reception that kept him isolated the following morning.
“My mom said, ‘It looks like a war zone,’” he said. “It didn’t register yet that it was going on and I was across the country in Milwaukee.”
Following the worst of the hurricane, Bitetto was able to get in touch with his brother, who sent him photos of the damage to their town. His loved ones and friends were safe, but people had lost their cars and boats, and nearly every home had been damaged.
While his family began gutting houses, Bitetto wanted to contribute to relief efforts even though he couldn’t lend a hand physically. He set up a Fundly.com donation page to raise money for his town, specifically to go toward the rebuilding of Island Park’s firehouse, which was destroyed by Sandy.
Bitetto said he hopes assist in any way he can. He described Island Park as a town where everyone knows each other.
“The town always supported me with hockey, school and leaving school, so I figured it was my turn to help them,” he said.
At press time, the fundraising page was up to $7,455 raised from 96 donors in 12 days, with donations ranging from $10 to $1,000. Bitetto credits hockey with giving him a platform for spreading the word about the fundraiser.
He used Twitter to share a link to his page, with some help from his 964 followers.
“Being part of Nashville’s organization really helped. They’re such a great organization and I had a bunch of Nashville followers and news reporters in Milwaukee re-tweet it, so it was a huge help,” he said.
Bitetto has no specific monetary goal, even though the page says $100,000, and will continue to raise funds until he returns home for the first time at Christmas break. He said reaching the $7,000 mark in such a short period of time was incredible, and no matter how much the final amount is, he just wants to know it’s going to the town that has supported him.
“There’s no place like home, and it really is true. It’s kind of scary to see pictures and it doesn’t even seem real.”