Riverhead Polish Hall was packed Thursday night with firemen, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), police officers and community members who came out to support the eighth annual Heidi’s Helping Angels fundraiser dinner.
The event, which features a sitdown dinner, 50/50 raffle and Chinese Auction, is designed to raise money for scholarships given to Riverhead and Bishop McGann-Mercy high school graduates each year.
Each year, students receive a $2,000 scholarship from the organization. Since its inception $76,000 has been donated in scholarships, Heidi’s Helping Angels president Ron Schmitt said.
John Behr, Heidi’s father, said the scholarships are given out annually in June at the culmination of the school year, and said it’s great to see the students receiving the awards in his daughter’s name each year.
“Every year we think it’s going to dwindle, but every year it sells out,” Heidi’s mother, June Behr, said of the annual fundraising dinner. “It amazes us. It’s great support for a good cause.”
Heidi, a Riverhead graduate and member of the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps, died in May 2005 at age 23 after the ambulance she was riding in crashed into a tree.
Since then, Heidi’s Helping Angels was formed. In addition to providing local students with scholarships, a road running along the Peconic River was officially named Heidi Behr Way in 2013.
Mr. Schmitt said the organization was the idea of its former president, Jimmy Stark, who got a group of people together to help fundraise for Mr. and Mrs. Behr to build a home to accommodate Jared, Heidi’s son, who was 14-months old when she died. Jared, who has cerebral palsy, has been raised by his grandparents ever since.
The Behr’s, however, moved into a home in Cutchogue that they renovated, so Heidi’s Helping Angels decided to create the scholarship fund instead.
Ms. Behr noted that she and her husband have nothing to do with the annual dinner.
“People from the community step up to the plate,” she said. “They pull this off and don’t ask a thing of us. We want to thank them from the bottom of our hearts.”
In some past years community members were recognized for their helpful acts that went above and beyond the call of duty. This year, no specific person was honored, but all the town’s servicemen — police, firemen and EMTs — were thanked for their work.
“It’s very emotional,” Ms. Behr said. “It’s always very emotional. Now, you kind of get past it a little bit and it’s honorable. We look forward to it. We want to remember her and we’re very proud of her.”
Photo: A portrait of Heidi Behr at the annual dinner fundraiser. (Credit: Nicole Smith)