Written by Liz Bice Friday, 24 December 2010 00:00
On Friday, Dec. 3, students were invited to attend the Manhasset Middle School Dance in honor of former Manhasset student and lacrosse star Neil Barber. The school dance was a smashing success; admittance required three cans of food for the homeless, in honor of Neil’s Wheels. The total amount collected was 821 cans of food for homeless dinners and ecumenical food pantries on Long Island.
Neil’s Wheels was established in 1999 to help students feel comfortable and safe when discussing any problem, including alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness. When Neil Barber was diagnosed with schizophrenia around 1995 he tried to run away from his disease, spending time at homeless shelters around the country, where he was treated well.
Initially, Coach Bob Rule, who had coached Neil, explained to his students how courageous Neil has been, and in return, the students wanted to do something meaningful for Neil. When informed of the students’ intentions, Neil immediately chose to help the homeless.
Consequently, Manhasset students, under the guidance of Coach Rule, followed his instructions to bring three cans of food, instead of an admittance fee, to Friday’s dance. Greg Barber, Neil’s dad, participated at the entrance to the dance by counting each and every can and when he announced the final total, the students cheered loudly! While standing at the door Mr. Barber thanked each student individually.
Neil Barber was a star lacrosse player at Manhasset High School and graduated in 1992. He went one extra year to Canterbury Prep School and although his illness began to erode his enormous talents in lacrosse, he still received a scholarship to Gettysburg College. However, shortly after attending Gettysburg, Neil became too ill to continue his schooling. His disease progressed, finally causing him to attempt to run away from it by traveling around the country.
On his journey, he was welcomed by many homeless shelters that provided dinners and places to sleep. When offered food by the Manhasset students on Thanksgiving 2009, Neil decided to donate their food to six homeless shelters in the Huntington Station area. The students continued to donate food all last winter and this year, a dance in Neil’s honor was initiated to support the homeless. The Manhasset Middle School was a positive force in this growing feed-the-homeless movement.
Consequently, other schools have decided to follow Manhasset’s lead to raise food for the hungry in this creative way. For example, St. Peter’s School in Port Washington, in honor of Neil’s Wheels, launched two Halloween Dances and donated their foodstuffs to homeless shelters.
Additionally, the New York Islanders, around the week of Dec. 6, chose Neil’s Wheels as the beneficiary to receive donations of food at a game held at the Nassau Coliseum on March 26, 2011. Similar to the dance, each fan is encouraged to bring one can of food as the admittance fee to attend the game. Neil’s Wheels will potentially bring 18,000 cans of food for Long Island food pantries due to this initiative. Greg Barber was delighted “to have the New York Islanders decide to choose Neil’s Wheels over all other foundations,” and added, “It is quite an honor for my son.”
And Neil’s Wheels has been chosen for students’ community projects as well as for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts Outreach programs. And Neil’s Wheel’s has one National Honor Society student volunteering his time to run a food and clothing drive as his project.
Neil is extremely proud of the program, and feels terrific about helping out. To see the pictures of the Manhasset dance and to learn how you can help, please visit www.neilswheelsny.com. Click Manhasset at the bottom to see the pictures from the dance, and click HiHi, for Huntington Interfaith Homeless Initiative, to see all the churches and temples involved in this wonderful program to feed the homeless, provide clothing and a much needed bed, during these cold winter nights. The HiHi programs are held every night at different churches and temples throughout the winter. Greg Barber and Coach Rule deliver the food to these homeless venues and account for the money donated. An individual can select the program he/she prefers the donation to support.
Following the dance, Greg brought a visual display chart showing the number of cans collected and Neil asked to have his picture taken behind this chart in order to express his gratitude to all of Manhasset for their overwhelming generosity. Neil wants to thank Manhasset Middle School and St. Peter’s School because they are fueling the growth and awareness of Neil’s Wheels and its purpose to feed the homeless. Neil Barber also thanks his former lacrosse coach, Coach Rule and his former CYO basketball coach, Deacon Frank Bice, for making this all possible.
In just one short month, Neil’s Wheels has raised approximately 1,500 cans of food for the homeless of virtually every religious group.