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Umbrella coverage: Local club supports 'anybody in need'

For the past 29 years, the members of the Umbrella Club of Lower Fairfield County have been meeting once a month at Zody's 19th Hole Restaurant, a friendly joint overlooking the Gaynor E. Brennan Golf Course on the Greenwich-Stamford border. They gather there to eat, drink, mingle -- and figure out who they are going to help next with generous cash contributions.

Maybe it will be children with severe health issues (a favorite cause), or maybe it will be the Yale-New Haven Pediatric Eye Clinic Center or Stamford Hospital.

"Our purpose is to help people, handicapped people, sick people, anybody in need," says Greenwich resident Peter Orrico, one of the founders of the local chapter of the club, which was formed in 1974. (Other Greenwich founders include John Depoli, Victor Chiapetti, now deceased, Jim Pucci and Mike Marullo.)

Since the local group's first meeting, the club has given away more than $2.5 million.

The story of how the club got its name goes back to the 1960s when a dozen guys from Westchester and Fairfield County met for lunch to eat, drink, and discuss a friend in need who they all decided to contribute to. A sudden rainstorm kept them from their cars until one of them spotted a vendor selling umbrellas and procured enough umbrellas for all. The group decided to meet monthly to help those in need and call themselves the Tri-County Umbrella Club. The lower Fairfield County Umbrella Club is an offshoot.

At last month's meeting of the local club, some of the 50 or so members drift in -- from Greenwich, Stamford, Westport, Darien and Norwalk. Among them is Pucci, a former Greenwich policeman, and Steve Wolpo, a dentist from Stamford who says he learned of the club from one of his patients. Seated at the dais is Bruce Moore, of Stamford, club president; Mike Mezzapelle, of Stamford, treasurer; and Hank Anderson, of Stamford, secretary.

The long tables fill up and there's lots of camaraderie -- a hallmark of guys who share a passion. But the meeting comes quickly to order. There's business to attend to.

First, everyone stands to sing "The Umbrella Song" (and no, it is not the one by Rihanna).

"We'll have some fun when our work is done.../ We're still rough and ready guys," they sing, "But right now let's just harmonize.../ We'll give a little help now to kids that need our help now/ So give a cheer - The Umbrella Club is here!"

Next, a moment of silence is held for "those who need our prayers," says Moore.

Then, the roll call is read.

"We want active members," says Orrico in an aside. "We talk to them if they don't show up."

Club treasurer and CPA Mezzapelle follows and gives his report for 2013: "We brought in $250,000 between fundraising and contributions, of which $100,000 goes to individuals and charities and $50,000 to our annual pledge (over six years) to Stamford Hospital," he says. "We have approximately $490,000 in total assets."

Mezzapelle then urges members on the raffle ticket committee to get active selling the $100 tickets for their 30th Annual Car Raffle fundraiser taking place on Feb. 5 at the Italian Center of Stamford. "It's expected to raise approximately $70, 000," he says. Another fundraiser, the annual Spring Golf Outing, is expected to raise an additional $48,000. Read Full Article 

Scott Kelly, a financial advisor from Norwalk is up next. He's chair of the group's Good & Welfare Committee and shares the facts and figures on the people the group is currently supporting.

"We have four individuals with requested funds," he says. "We need to raise money for these individuals. All are at the limits of their insurance, and certain therapies are not covered."

"Kenneth Romaine is a 20-year-old with leukemia (both parents work for the town of Greenwich), and $4,000 is needed for treatment and transportation to Yale New Haven to see his doctor," says Kelly.

"Jamison O'Meara from Trumbull is a 4 ½-year-old with severe epilepsy and autism and $5,000 is needed to get him down to Maryland to the Kennedy Krieger Institute," he continues. "Karissa Craddock from Trumbull is a 7-year-old with Spina bifida who can't walk and $3,500 is needed for aquatic therapy and physical therapy. And Sheri Restal, a 19-year-old girl from Stamford with Down syndrome needs $1,500 for speech therapy."

Orrico answers the question begging to be asked. How does the club learn about these individuals?

"They come to us by word of mouth," he says, "from hospital directors, from the Department of Social Services, from Abilis, from the Stamford Home Initiative, from people we've helped before, from our website."

"We investigate the person," Orrico continues, "and see where the money is to go to that person."

Over 90 percent of the club's funds go to individuals and charities, according to Orrico.

"Every one of us donates our time," he says, "with the rest going for the paperwork."

And just like that, the gavel sounds and it is time for the members to go back to their real jobs, as bankers, accountants, dentists or policemen -- until next month.

For more information on the Umbrella Club, visit www.umbrellaclub.org.

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