Knights Shine After City Goes Dark
West End lodge turned into center where people could find three square meals and basic needs.
It became a beacon of light in a hurricane-ravaged city of darkness.
The Knights of Columbus lodge in the West End suffered the same flooding and lack of power as all of Long Beach after Sandy crashed into the barrier island last month. But the next day its members bought a generator and strung up some lights, and what started as the only place neighbors could get a hot cup of coffee turned into a donation center where they could get breakfast, lunch and dinner and pick up a variety of needs, from batteries to diapers to cleaning supplies.
“People are very solemn,” George Gentilesco, a lodge member and Illinois Street resident, said about the hurricane victims that visit the lodge daily. “Long Beach is devastated.”
Instrumental in the lodge’s initial search for food were the many out-of-town volunteers who arrived to help Long Beach recover, especially state troopers from Syracuse, Gentilesco said. Many local volunteers have worked around the clock from day one, serving everyone from West Enders to city employees daily. On Thursday, 17 days after the storm, they continued to clean up and clear out the building, which likely will have to be gutted.
“I do it because of the satisfaction I get from putting a smile on the faces of my neighbors,” said William Daugherty, who along with Gentilesco, Lisa Laskas, Loretta Snyder, Peggy Attanasio and Jay Kennedy have been there every day since the Tuesday after the storm.
A woman, who asked to remain anonymous, sat in the lodge on Thursday, wearing a winter jacket, wool hat and scarf that she picked up there. She said her family has eaten there every day once food was made available.
“It gives a sense that we’re going to beat this,” she said about the post-hurricane lodge. “We know Sandy was tough, but we’re going to be tougher.”
Five feet of ocean and bay water and sewage flooded and destroyed her house in West Holme. She and her two sons, daughter and husband now live with her mother in town. Their family car survived the storm and she drives her husband to the A train in Far Rockaway each day to start his trek to work in Manhattan. The lodge has also supplied her with lunch bags, flashlights, blankets and shoes.
“By giving you a hot cup of coffee and people to talk to, they ground you,” she said about the volunteers.
“It’s very overwhelming,” she added about the shock of Sandy’s devastation.
The volunteers, all barrier island residents, have suffered similar destruction at their own homes. So how have they been able to help others when they are basically in the same precarious position?
“We’ve all been helping each other out,” said Ron Brown, the lodge’s grand knight. “When one of us isn’t here, we’re at the other person’s house helping to clean up.”
Among the exceptions is Bill Maxwell, a volunteer who called himself “absolutely blessed.” A 40-year member of the lodge, Maxwell lives in Lido Beach and, while he was powerless for 15 days, his house didn’t flood. “So I don’t see any problem coming down here to help out for 10 hours a day.”
The lodge plans to step up its efforts next week, as they prepare to host a Thanksgiving dinner. The members also have a Christmas party in the works, scheduled for Dec. 23, and they encourage parents to leave them a list of toys to buy for their children. Meanwhile, donations can be made to the Knights of Columbus through mail or in person at 970 W. Beech St. Long Beach, NY 11561.