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Free Pancakes to Help Ailing Youngsters

IHOPs in the Lower Hudson Valley are providing free flapjacks Feb. 5 to benefit a local children's hospital.

When Sarah Martin of Stony Point was two-years-old, she survived a grisly accident with a lawnmower.

The youngster nearly lost her leg and several fingers, but was able to recover from the accident with the help of a local pediatrics center: Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.

"Sarah has had 15 surgeries since 2002," said her mother, Patricia Martin. "Almost all of them have been at Maria Fareri."

And once a year, an unlikely weapon in the battle to help ailing children like Sarah Martin emerges in the Lower Hudson Valley.

Pancakes.

Feb. 5 will mark National Pancake Day for IHOP, when all the blue-and-white breakfast diners in Westchester and Rockland (and around the country, for that matter) serve up gratis flapjacks.

But diners are encourages to pitch in. The free food is tethered to a national campaign to raise money for children's hospitals throughout the nation. And all money raised locally will remain local—here, donations will make their way to Maria Fareri Children's Hospital.

Maria Fareri Children's Hospital is one of the leading pediatric centers in the regions, performing open-heart surgery, organ transplants and other intensive care.

At the IHOP nestled in Spring Valley Marketplace in Rockland, manager Maria Mancuso has a special connection to the campaign. One of her two children—now both teens—was cared for at Maria Ferari 18 years ago.

"I had a great experience with them," she said. "It's a wonderful hospital."

Mancuso said that although National Pancake Day is a one-day event, the fundraising efforts span an entire month.

"We have place mats, pamphlets and coloring books [to raise awareness]," she said. "And paper balloons posted on the store's walls to showcase donors."

Diners can give anything upward of two to three dollars, and have their name pasted inside the business, Mancuso said. And as National Pancake Day draws closer, the staff sees an uptick in donations.

"I just try to raise as much money as I can," Mancuso added.

Sarah Martin and her mother will join Mancuso on Feb. 5, too.

"Sometimes you don't know how important a place like [Maria Fareri Children's Hospital] is until you need it," Patricia Martin said.

Across the Hudson, in northern Westchester, the place mats will feature a familiar face: Caite Opfer.

Opfer, now 16, was a patient at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital in 2008 when she had a tumor removed from her neck. Since, she has taken up the banner for the hospital and organized a slate of successful fundraising events.

"She started with small fundrasiing, selling stuff at school and raising about $1,000," said her mother, Mary Opfer.

But last year, Caite's cause grew exponentially—she pieced together a three-versus-three basketball tournament that took in almost $10,000 for the hospital. She has already garnered approval for another this April.

Mary Opfer said this is her and Caite's first time working in tandem with IHOP, and will be stopping by their local pancake house come Feb. 5.

"Caite is one of five kids featured on the place mats," Mary Opfer said. "They feature their photos, and their story."

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Find an IHOP near you:

  • 28 S. Central Avenue, Hartsdale
  • 2620 Central Park Avenue, Yonkers
  • 1375 Boston Post Road, Larchmont
  • 4282 Palisades Center Dr., West Nyack
  • 40 Spring Valley Market Place, Spring Valley
  • 1745 E Main Street, Mohegan Lake

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