NY Legion Family members step up to assist community following historic storm and flooding

NY Legion Family members step up to assist community following historic storm and flooding

On July 9 of this year, a massive storm wreaked havoc on the Town of Highlands, N.Y., causing massive flooding on roads to and out of town, cutting off water service to residents there, damaging multiple homes and even causing $100 million worth of damage to the nearby U.S. Military Academy.

Also impacted were members of O’Conner Doyle American Legion Post 633 in the Village of Highland Falls, which is a part of the town. But that didn’t stop the post from immediately stepping in to assist and sometimes lead recovery efforts. In the following weeks, the post was open 12-plus hours a day in providing water, food, clothing, household items and a respite for families impacted by the storm.

There was no hesitation on the part of the post to get involved.

“This is a really small community. If you wait for something to happen, who knows how long you’re going to wait,” Post 633 Commander John Flynn said. “The response all around was quick, that’s for sure. But your neighbors are to your left and your right, and you’ve got to do something because they’re hurting.”

Flooding cut off portions of the community from each other, so Post 633 became the center of relief activity for many residents.

“Highland Falls and Fort Montgomery where we live, it’s two communities but one town, separated by a couple miles of highway and an old back road … which is the road that our post is on and was completely washed out in one section, which separated Highland Falls from Fort Montgomery,” Flynn said. “The main road itself, it was difficult to get back and forth from one town to another. So, what we did is The American Legion became the hub for the Fort Montgomery side of the town … for Sacred Heart (of Jesus Church) and the Red Cross.

“We picked up food delivery. We had food delivered to us. We cooked lunches and dinners and delivered them. We had completely cleared our (post) out and made it into a relief center where you could come and pick up foods. We had people donating clothing and household items and such things that people may have needed right away. So, it almost became a pop-up thrift store where you could just grab the things you needed right away.”

The latter was a big help for residents who had suffered enough damage to their homes that they were forced to leave them. “A lot of people were displaced and were put in hotels, so they really didn’t the clothing items for themselves and their families,” Flynn said. “So, they were able to get those from us.”

The flooding impacted the area’s water supply as well, and the post was able to alleviate some of that issue.

“Water was a huge thing … with so many of the pipes being broken. And on the Fort Montgomery side, there was a large area where people have wells, and all their water was contaminated,” Flynn said. “We had pallets and pallets and pallets of water brought in every day. In addition to delivering around 40 lunches and 70-80 dinners daily, we would bring cases of water to everybody as well.”

Post 663 members also went to more than a dozen local homes, “going in and emptying their basement. Getting the damaged and destroyed items out to the curb as quickly as we could,” Flynn said. “Getting into crawl spaces. I’d heard of crawl spaces before but had never been in one. Now I know what crawl spaces look like and why they call them a crawl space.

“It was helping with the clean-up effort, pumping water out. Cleaning. Using disinfectant and bleaches to be able to make sure we could get off whatever was on the walls and on the floors.”

Flynn said it wasn’t just Post 633 assisting following the storm. He said American Legion Family members from throughout Orange County stepped in to help the effort.

“All the (posts) in Orange County and a couple outside of the county responded,” he said. “First, being able to get any manpower we needed. We had the Montgomery (Post 521). We had Harrriman (Post 1573). (Posts) were volunteering their Scout troops and their Junior ROTCs. It really helped out.

“And the (American Legion) Riders were huge. (Orange County American Legion Riders Secretary) Chris Holshek was instrumental is getting everything started. He converted one third of our space upstairs into almost a family room center. We had a projector and a screen set up so people could watch a movie if they wanted to. Kids could watch kid movies. We brought in a children’s library and children’s toys. There were a couple of couches we put in so that people could feel a little more at home without being at home. So many of these guys came together for us. The help just never stopped coming.”

Flynn said Arthur Finnegan American Legion Post 1443 in Greenwood Lake, New Windsor American Legion Post 1796 and the Haverstraw Elks Lodge also assisted the effort. But it wasn’t just manpower provided by other American Legion Family members in the area. “Our (post) doesn’t act like other Legions do in that we don’t have a bar (and) we don’t have a kitchen,” Flynn said. “So, we don’t really have that type of in and out activity … so we were a little concerned in the beginning about being able to handle the utilities. We were essentially lights on 24/7 … with people coming by at 9, 10, 11 o’clock at night.  In the three weeks that we were running that building, we probably ran it on a utility level that was more like the last three years.  We got financial support from other (posts), and other organizations as well … to be able to make sure the utility bills were going to be paid.”

Now in the recovery and rebuilding stage, Flynn said the post continues to make itself available to provide assistance. “Basically, if we get a call from somebody, we still check on the houses we’ve been to. We’re able to react and respond to whoever has a need at that time,” he said. “We have a collection and such that was given to us. If somebody is getting a little bit closer to being back to normal again in their homes, but their lacking that bedroom, they’re lacking that kitchen set, we’re able to get that stuff to them right away as well.”

Flynn said the way Post 633 responded to a tragic situation shows how much the post values its fellow community members. “We’re not just here for the veterans. We’re here for the community as well,” he said. “The American Legion takes care of its community. That’s what we do.

“Being in such a small-town area, you know everybody in here. You already know what they need. This isn’t just an American Legion thing. This is a ‘this-is-what-we-do thing.’ You put aside any and all differences, and you go help that person. And you keep doing it until everyone is taken care of. People help people, and that’s what we’re here for.”