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East Patchogue community drive for local ‘hero’ draws hundreds

While stationed in Africa with the Air National Guard, Eric Carver's East Patchogue home was burglarized, vandalized and set on fire. Members of the community gathered Saturday for a bracelet and bake sale to raise money to fix Carver's home. Carver also is a New York State Trooper. Videojournalist: Brittany Wait (Jan. 12, 2013)

At a fundraiser at the Swan Lake Civic Association clubhouse in East Patchogue on Saturday, 10-year-old Thomas Roach held up handfuls of $3 red, white and blue rubber bracelets inscribed with the word “hero.” He was hoping to attract sales that will go to rebuild the burnt-out home of a local community leader currently on military deployment in Africa.

Roach, who two years ago sold bracelets to raised money for a classmate diagnosed with cancer, stepped up again after the home of Swan Lake Park Civic Association president Eric Carver’s home on Lake Drive was burglarized and set afire on Dec. 27. Carver also had a handgun stolen, and his 1997 Chevy pickup truck was stolen but later recovered and impounded. No arrests have been made, according to Suffolk County police.

Roach’s initial efforts this time around spurred an online fundraising drive that has already raised more than $10,000 (www.giveforward.com/supportforericourlocalhero).

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Saturday’s fundraiser, which included sales of baked goods and raffles, drew hundreds and raised over $10,000 more.

Carver, who has been president of the civic association for two years, is a state trooper who has served 10 tours overseas with the Westhampton Beach-based Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing, including three times to Kuwait, three times to Turkey, two times to Afghanistan and one time to Iraq. A master sergeant and aircraft mechanic who works on communication and navigation systems on HC-130 airplanes and HH-60 helicopters, he’s been in Africa since September and is due back in February.

“He already does a lot for his community and now he’s serving his country,” Roach, of East Patchogue, said of Carver. “I hope he comes home to a better home, a home that’s fixed.”

While the fundraiser was going on Saturday, another group of neighbors spent the day demolishing the inside of Carver’s home.

“Honestly, Eric is a phenomenal person. He goes out and helps everybody in the community and this is our chance to pay him back,” said Karen Stiriz, treasurer of the civic association. “One hundred percent of the proceeds will go towards getting Eric’s house back to liveable.”

Patricia Sitler, a trustee on the civic association, said volunteers hope to raise enough money to fit Carver’s home with new flooring, walls and insulation. The goal is to raise $75,000 by April 28.

“I saw what was left of Eric’s home and it was clear what needed to be done,” said Sitler, 40. “We never expected in our wildest dreams to have a turnout like this. It started off as a small community fundraiser and spiraled into including donations from people from all over.”

Carver, 46, who has lived in the house for seven years, said in an email he was relieved to find such a strong support system back home, making it easier to be away.

Because of that, Carver felt he didn’t need to cut his deployment short.

Fellow airman Harold Erikson, who brought his family to the fundraiser to show their support, describes his friend of 10 years as loyal and kind-hearted.

“He’s a great guy. It’s hard to imagine that this would happen to him,” said Erikson, 40, of Sayville. “I was devastated when I found out about the fire, but it’s truly amazing to see his community pulling together for him.”

Maureen Hernandez said she sold raffle tickets because Carver helped her get through a hard time in her life. He encouraged her to go out in public after an autoimmune disorder called alopecia areata caused her hair to fall out.

“He was so positive and it made me feel so much more comfortable at the gym, where we first met,” said Hernandez, 54, of Medford. “He told me not to worry about what other people thought. When he’s home he takes care of his community and now I’m glad it’s taking care of him.”

For more information on donating, contact Karen Stiriz at 4dhs@optonline.net.

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