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Sunnyside Residents Plan Fundraiser for Family of Newtown Shooting Victim

SUNNYSIDE — A group of Queens residents is planning a fundraiser to honor Benjamin Wheeler, one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December.

Benjamin's parents, Francine and David Wheeler, lived in Sunnyside and were active members of local Sunnyside Gardens Park before moving to Newtown, Conn., when Ben was 7 months old. Francine Wheeler helped found the "Sunnymoms," a close-knit group of young neighborhood parents who met regularly for celebrations and play dates.

Members of the group held a candlelight vigil in Ben's honor the week after the shooting.

"I think everyone in the community, especially those who know and love the Wheeler family, wanted to do more," said Roger Hitts, a member of Sunnyside Gardens Park whose daughter was a playmate to Ben Wheeler and his brother Nate before the family moved to Newtown.

"We just wanted to show them that they're not forgotten in Sunnyside, and we won't forget their wonderful son."

The fundraiser will be held Feb. 23 from 5 to 9 p.m. at Sunnyside Community Services, and will feature food, drinks, a raffle, a magic show, face-painting and live music — including a heavy rotation of songs by The Beatles, Ben's favorite band.

"It's going to be a really nice night out," said Hitts, who said they want the event to be a positive remembrance. "Of course, the reason for the benefit is a heavy-hearted one, but the mood will be more celebratory."

Wristbands for food and drinks will cost $15 each, and a wristband for both will be discounted at $25. The cost for children over 6 is $5, with free entry for the younger kids.

Proceeds will go to the Ben Wheeler Fund, established by friends of the family "to help ease the financial burden on the family, and to help provide for the long-term needs of their surviving child Nate," according to its Facebook page.