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    Posted December 18, 2006

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The 21st Annual Stephen J. Falat Basket Project

By Nicole Yanolatos

Joanne Borts, Arne Gundersen, Jim Taylor McNickle, Anthony Morelli, Ben McLaughlin and Consultant Brian Simons.

The 21st Annual Stephen J. Falat Basket Project was even more successful this year. About 3000 holiday gift bags were delivered to various area hospitals and charities by dozens of devoted volunteers and an exceptional group of students from Slocum Skewes School (located in Ridgefield, NJ).

Equity Regional Vice President Arne Gundersen, who is the chair of Equity's Falat Basket Project Committee, thanked the volunteers and recognized the efforts of Greg Kayne who manages the volunteers and handles all the ordering; and Diane Eyerman and the Barry Manilow Fan Club, A Little Harmony, which conducts the ongoing fundraising for the project. Gundersen also acknowledged teachers, Darren Gold and Jackie Zloty from Slocum Skewes School. A dance is held to collect donations for the Falat Basket Project, where each person brings a toy for admission. In addition to the regular Falat Basket volunteers and helpers, there were two extra special sources of help this year.

Slocum Skewes Kids w/ officers: President, Mark Zimmerman; Eastern Regional Vice President, Arne Gundersen; First Vice President, Paige Price; and Third Vice President, Ira Mont.

For the last three years, Toys 'R' Us, located in Times Square, has donated a wonderful selection of toys for the children's gift bags for the various area hospitals and charities. This year, on Thursday, December 5th, two pallets worth of toys, including stuffed animals, games and dolls were excitedly collected by volunteers to add to the bags. Brian Simons, a consultant for Toys 'R' Us, arranges the donations. Brian, also a member of Actors' Equity since 2003, said, "These types of donations are part of Toys 'R' Us' corporate philanthropy." Toys 'R' Us recently (on Nov. 17th) celebrated their fifth anniversary in Times Square.

For the last few years another familiar local business has assisted the Falat Basket project. McDonald's in Times Square (located on 1560 Broadway, right next to Equity!), has been donating lunch to the Slocum volunteers. This year McDonald's was presented with a plaque for their generosity, which was presented to Yvonne Santiago, the First Assistant Manager, who graciously accepted the plaque on behalf of the Times Square McDonald's. The Actors' Equity plaque is proudly on display behind the counter at McDonald's.

Slocum Skewes Kids at McDonald's in Times Square

Some of the organizations that received baskets this year include: Argus Community Access Program, The Actors' Fund Aurora Residence, Bailey-Holt House, Beth Israel, Mt. Sinai Hospital, the NYC Minority Task Force on AIDS, St. Vincent's Midtown, St. Mary's Center, the Terrence Cardinal Cooke Health Center, the Manhattan VA Hospital and Village/Care Chelsea and Bowery.

The mission began in 1985 when actor Stephen J. Falat visited a handful of patients at St. Luke's Hospital, donating Christmas baskets supplied through his own generosity. The next year, he organized the project through Actors' Equity Association and donated 150 baskets to other AIDS charities. The project now has dozens of volunteers and is an annual event.

Eastern Regional Vice President, Arne Gundersen; First Vice President, Paige Price; First Assistant Manager of McDonald's, Yvonne Santiago; Slocum Skewes Student Government Officers: President, Jared Farro; Vice President, Seul Bi Lou; Treasurer, Lizzie Reich; and Secretary Gina Yoon.

Falat passed away from complications from AIDS in 1991, and the Basket Project has been proudly continued in his memory. Members of Equity's Stephen J. Falat Basket Committee are Arne Gundersen, Chair; Austin Colyer, Jeanne Lehman, Maureen Moore and Jean-Paul Reichard.

A special thanks to this years volunteers:
Sam Adelman, Joanne Borts, Austin Colyer, Michael Di Pietro, Kelly Eyerman, David Gebel, Haileen Gray, Tod Jackson, Randall Kellogg, Teak Lewis, Frieda Lipp, Patti Mariano, Ben McLaughlin, Jim Taylor McNickle, Lawrence Merritt, Anthony Morelli, Giovanni Stella, Tony Taccione, .

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