NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – For families of fallen first responders, the holidays can be an emotional time.

But as CBS2’s Reena Roy reported, coming together and remembering their loved ones can really help.

The First Responders Children’s Foundation held its annual Thanksgiving Parade Breakfast in Bryant Park. It was a different kind of Thanksgiving meal, as a very extended family gathered for a special remembrance.

“I lost my dad about 11 years ago today. He was a police officer for the Honolulu Police Department,” said Keahi Favela.

“I lost my dad. He was battalion chief,” Ray Downey Jr. said.

The meal has become a tradition for many of the families.

“He did 39 years, and it was his life. So it’s a proud moment,” said Downey Jr. “We celebrate his life, we run a race in his honor – all the firemen’s honor, 343 of them — every year. So we celebrate their lives.”

“It’s sad in the sense that you remember people you might have lost, but you also have this opportunity to be with people who understand what you went through,” President of the First Responders Children’s Foundation Al Kahn told Roy.

For 17 years, more than 1,000 people have come together, sharing a similar grief each Thanksgiving – all of them losing a loved one in the line of duty. Firefighters, police officers and other first responders are honored by top city officials after giving their lives serving.

“So many times we see these families in sad times, but today everyone is smiling,” said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

“It’s important that we all come together doing this. And I thank Al and the foundation for it. It means so much to the families,” added NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill.

The foundation, which was created after 9/11, has also raised money for scholarships to help the surviving children go to college.

“At one point, college just didn’t seem possible, because of tuition costs. But by them helping me go to college, it’s helping me reach my full potential and it’s helping me reach my dreams,” Favela said.

So after deep heartbreak, the families are feeling a little extra thankful this year.

They also got a special treat after breakfast – an up and close private viewing area of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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