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John Theissen's 10th Annual Holiday Gala Draws Big Support

Celebrity guests helped the Wantagh charity at its largest fundraising event of the year.

Holiday spirit was alive in hundreds last Thursday as the hosted its 10th Annual Holiday Gala at in Wantagh.

This winter season, the Wantagh-based foundation is, making their end-of-the-year event larger than ever.

The charity's founder John Theissen rallied support from celebrity guests including WNYW Fox 5 news anchor Jill Nicolini, former New York Yankees Mickey Rivers and Graig Nettles, former New York Knicks star John Starks, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory actor Paris Themmen and famed New York Jets fan "Fireman Ed".

Nicolini, a longtime friend of Theissen's and active member of the foundation's Board of Directors, expressed how proud she is to be a part of such a great cause here on Long Island where she grew up.

"John is a dear friend for so many years now," said Nicolini, who auctioned off a lunch date in New York City to raise money for Theissen. "I support who he is and what he does for all the children out there. I can't believe how this holiday event has grown - it's a great thing."

At last week's benefit, Nicolini was touched by a guest whose son recently encountered his third brain tumor.

"I just met a woman outside, her son is 15 and has had three brain tumors over the course of his life," Nicolini explained. "They finally had to reach out to John for help. She had tears in her eyes saying what John has done for her and her family. I'm glad to help - if I can bring any light onto this, any help, it's the least I can do."

Starks was unfamiliar with the foundation before he was asked to appear as a guest, but he could quickly tell that Theissen's work came from a genuine place.

"It's from the heart - that's all you can say," said Starks, who helped lead the Knicks to the NBA Finals in 1994. "He wants to help everybody, and the fight is huge, but he's really committed to it."

As a part of the live auction, Starks put up a signed New York Knicks jersey. While on stage, he added in a dinner with him and another former teammate along with tickets to an upcoming game.

"After being here and seeing what John is truly trying to accomplish, I wanted to raise as much money for his cause as possible," Starks said. "Anybody can tell he has a big heart."

An avid New York Jets fan, Theissen has formed a tight relationship with famed fan Edwin Anzalone, more commonly known as "Fireman Ed". Anzalone has supported Theissen's fundraisers for nearly a decade by auctioning off NFL paraphernalia and meeting with fans.

"I love the work he does and love to support it," Anzalone said. "In 20 years he's helped so many kids and done some great things."

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