Before the day ended Oct. 2, a caravan of men traveled more than 500 miles south of the Brooklyn border to drop-off thousands of pounds of relief and recovery supplies for those affected by tropical storm Florence in North Carolina. Except instead of representing the organization with the familiar logo of a red cross, these men will represent a different crest: the red, gold and blue Knights of Columbus councils from both St. Finbar and Most Precious Blood in Bath Beach.
“One of our major functions as Knights of Columbus is charity,” said St. Finbar’s Grand Knight, Charles Shelley, who was also one of the designated drivers. “It’s one of our major principles, so whenever we can help our brothers, we go and help our brothers.”
The grand knight from Council 15728 said that the crew, including the parish’s pastor and K. of C. Chaplain Father Michael Gelfant, were driving down to meet with knights from Council 3303 in New Bern, N.C., which lies southeast of Raleigh. Once there, they gave the items directly to the New Bern knights who will then distribute the supplies according to their community’s needs. He said that most of the fraternity’s members in New Bern were displaced after Florence.
“We’re going down with roughly 15 guys from here to unload and then turn around and come right back home again,” Shelley added. “We’re going to unload the water and all the material we have. The paper towels and the disinfectants that they need, the bleach, rags, you name it, we have it.”
Combining the efforts between St. Finbar and Most Precious Blood, the two Brooklyn parishes asked parishioners to donate cleaning supplies, tools or monetary funds to help in what was deemed “Phase 2” of recovery which involved the mucking and gutting of homes that were impacted by the flood waters.
“We have a lot of people who gave money just to go buy stuff,” said Most Precious Blood Grand Knight Louis Stuto. “As gloomy as the world looks, all of a sudden you see how people give, it’s a great thing.” He said looks forward to seeing the faces of the people they will help, a full circle of strangers helping strangers.
Helping Others Brings Joy
“It brings great joy to me and my council to help these people,” added Stuto. “When Sandy hit, we got hit hard and to give back to people who gave to us – there’s nothing better in the whole world.”
Generous donations poured in, including the transportation vehicles themselves, from the community that was all-too-familiar with the devastation that a hurricane can bring to a neighborhood and its families. Father Michael Gelfant, pastor at St. Finbar parish, said the church became an impromptu headquarter for relief assistance when Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast in late 2012.
“This was a central point for Hurricane Sandy, so all the supplies came to St. Finbar and then from here we were opening up the food banks and sending supplies to the other areas so we’re used to it, we know what to do,” said Father Gelfant.
Tropical storm Florence was downgraded from a hurricane to a Category 1 tropical storm and made landfall in the Carolinas mid-September. Yet, it still caused extensive damage and North Carolina residents are still dealing with the aftermath of massive amounts of water from the storm and flooding from the state’s rivers.
The Carolinas’ emergency services also took a hit, according to Bensonhurst Volunteer Ambulance Service emergency medical technician Michael Marquez. The military veteran said he was joining the caravan down to the Carolinas with the Brooklyn Knights and will drive one of the ambulances filled with medical equipment and firefighter turnout gear.
He and his team will head further south to Pollocksville, N.C. where he said only one ambulance exists for the whole county.
“Pollicksville Volunteer Ambulance, which is in that section of North Carolina that we’re going to, was completely flooded, completely destroyed,” said Marquez. “They lost their ambulances, they lost their medical supplies, they lost everything. So at their request, we’re going to be going down to provide assistance.”
Days leading up to the team’s departure, as most of the trip’s logistics became solidified, the men organized and loaded the donations and supplies from the parish’s garage onto the vehicle using a forklift that required all hands on deck.
For those gathered in St. Finbar’s parking lot doing the heavy lifting, the task was met with serious, but playful dialogue, like a brotherhood working to get the job done. Just in case any of the crew might suffer from a stomach pang or snack attack, Father Gelfant’s van was designated as the go-to destination, as it was where the team’s 3 a.m. meal would come from, since most stores won’t be open, unlike the city that never sleeps.
Once the clock struck 11 p.m. Oct. 1, the trucks and vans labeled with the K. of C. emblem on the side would take a long drive down 1-95 south and re-encounter the memory of a scene that once shut down the eastern seaboard, beyond Broadway in Manhattan and Breezy Point in Queens.