'Teddy' dinner helps heal NYC

Teddy Atlas will hold his annual foundation dinner Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn on Staten Island. AP Photo/Jens Meyer

Teddy Atlas is the color man on ESPN "Friday Night Fights" and is known to boxing fans as former Cus D'Amato devotee, trainer of Mike Tyson, trainer of heavyweight champion Michael Moorer and oft-volcanic standard-bearer who rails vociferously against the disgraceful scorecards turned in by judges on FNF cards and elsewhere. But the 57-year-old Staten Island resident makes his mark on the world the most through the work he does with his charitable organization, the Theodore Atlas Foundation.

Atlas puts together a gala dinner every year to raise funds for the foundation, which gives help, hope and funds to people in need. This year's dinner will be Thursday night at the Hilton Garden Inn on Staten Island.

Atlas formed the foundation in 1997 to honor his father, physician Theodore Atlas, who was known to be the man to call if you were ailing but didn't have one thin dime to pay for care. This past year, much of the younger Atlas' charitable duties have been focused on locals KO'd by the vicious assault of Superstorm Sandy last October, but he told ESPN New York that he's tried to make sure others in need haven't fallen through the cracks.

"It's a mix," he told me. "We haven't ducked everyday responsibilities for people who need treatment their insurance doesn't pay for, for their medications not being covered, or who need to fly out of state for a treatment for their kid or who need a handicapped ramp installed.

"In between that we're still helping people get back into homes, we're putting roofs on houses, putting in floors, whatever piece of the puzzle remains. We're buying a lot of appliances, [because] so many people are close to getting back to moving in, and they're moving into empty houses."

Atlas, who starts up the next round of FNF with the season debut on Jan. 3 in Minneapolis, gave me an example of some people the foundation helped recently.

"Two nights ago, I got a phone call from a school, a parent coordinator and assistant principal, about a family, with two kids, 8 and 3, living in a car," he said. "We got them into a hotel, got them a gift card for food."

I know that if I spend too much time even pondering that sort of situation, and wondering why our system lets so many fall between those cracks, and why it seems like the income-inequality gap in our nation seems as pronounced as it ever has been, leaving multitudes homeless or falling from a paycheck-to-paycheck existence into a rung down from that, I get demoralized. Homelessness in New York City has reached its highest level since the Great Depression, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. I asked Atlas how he doesn't get ground down, especially because the stories he comes across aren't on the printed page, but staring him in the face. He relayed a story that he admitted stuck with him and took something from him.

"There was a 5-year-old with brain cancer, about ten years ago, and we got him a swing set with rubber mats so when he fell, from being weak from treatments, he'd be OK," he said. "And his family invited me for dinner, and I asked 'What are we having?' and the kid said, 'Chocolate chip Haagen-Dazs,' and so a week later I stop by a deli and bring six pints of chocolate chip Haagen-Dazs to the house, and I go to the house and I see there's a wake going and he's dead.

"So maybe not at that moment, maybe two days later, it's banging away at you a little bit, but you try not to let it stay there," Atlas said. "I wouldn't be doing these things if they couldn't affect me. I keep doing it because it's there."

If you'd like to attend the "Teddy" dinner on Thursday night, call the foundation for ticket specifics at 718-980-7037. If you're on the fence, check back for Part 2, which will include the roster of celebrity guests as well as Atlas' take on Saturday's Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios tussle.