One day in the mid-1980s Rusty Staub was paging through a newspaper at his restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side when he came across an article about a New York City police officer killed in the line of duty. "He had a wife and three children," says Staub, "and the oldest of the kids was five. I decided to do something about it."
In 1985 Staub, then a pinch hitter extraordinaire for the Mets in the last of his 23 big league seasons, set up the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund (www.nypfwc.org) to help families of the city's cops and firefighters killed on the job. Before the World Trade Center attacks, the fund, which provides $10,000 upon an officer's death, then an annual sum (this year, $2,100) to the surviving spouse, had disbursed $8.3 million to 451 families. In the wake of Sept. 11, the fund's financial obligation will nearly double. "We know we're taking on a tremendous load," says Staub, "but we're working our tails off to make sure the money will be there."
Since Sept. 11, Staub has been putting in 16-hour days. He has collected $8 million, and another $8 million has been pledged. He has stumped on the Today show and last week visited the White House along with representatives of other charities. "I've been doing this for years, and I know all about the generosity of the people in this city," says Staub. "But the way the country has responded—it makes you so proud of everything America stands for."