When the summer recreation program at East Lake Elementary School in Massapequa Park lets out Tuesday afternoon, Joann Centrone expects to be swarmed by at least 100 kids and their families.
Across from the school, located at 154 East Lake Ave., Centrone and her team will be waiting with 25 gallons of Italian ices. From 3 to 5 p.m., they will be selling rainbow and lemon ices for $1 each to raise funds for a cause close to her family’s hearts: CancerCare.
This will be the seventh consecutive year Centrone and her sister, Diana Gerhardt, have hosted “Ices for Andrea” in memory of their mother, Andrea Caggiano, who lost died of breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 66.
“We’re a very tight-knit Italian family and we literally fell apart,” said Centrone, 42, of Massapequa Park.
Centrone’s two sons, Joseph and Nicholas, were 10 and 8 respectively when Caggiano, or Mamar as they called her, died. She wanted to help them work through their grief, but she was too distraught herself. When they tried to speak of their grandmother, she said she would fall apart, so they kept their emotions bottled up.
“I was failing as a mom and needed to get my kids better,” said Centrone, who arranged bereavement counseling for her family with CancerCare.
CancerCare had provided end-of-life therapy to Caggiano and also helped Gerhardt, 47, of East Rockaway, cope with her mother’s terminal illness.
For nearly a year, Centrone and her boys attended weekly sessions at CancerCare’s Woodbury office.
“They gave me the tools to start getting my life back, start parenting again and speak of my mom without being hysterical,” she said.
On July 9, 2007, the first anniversary of Caggiano’s death, Centrone came up with a new way to celebrate the day. Since the boys couldn’t take their Mamar for Italian ices, her favorite dessert, the family sold them on the street near their home. They raised $132, which they presented to CancerCare, along with a fake check the boys made from oak tag.
“For those couple of hours, my kids were happy,” said Centrone, who promised her sons they would make it an annual tradition.
Over time, more family, friends and locals have become involved. The 2012 event raised nearly $6,000, and since 2006, the fundraisers have brought in a total of $19,675.
More than 40 kids have signed up to volunteer this year alongside Nicholas, who is now 14, and Joseph, 16.
“It makes me so proud of my children and how far they’ve come,” said Centrone. “If we can help one person going through cancer or someone they love, then, our job is done.”