Story by Jeff Lipton.
The early-morning fire that gutted the Knights of Columbus headquarters Monday morning only helped to strengthen the resolve of its members to rebuild the facility.
The building, at 970 West Beech St., which had been used as a distribution point
for Hurricane Sandy victims, was due to re-open as a Knights of Columbus lodge when the fire struck at around 2 a.m.
The West End lodge was closed due to flooding from Sandy.
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“We have done so much for the community,” said Ronald Browne, grand knight of the Long Beach Knights of Columbus Msgr. Cass 2626. “We are still here and we will be stronger than ever. We were under water during Sandy and we cleaned it up just to serve the community.”
He said the members vow to rebuild the building, but he does not know how long it will take or how much money it will cost. He said the cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but it is not believed to be suspicious.
Besides finding a temporary headquarters, the group’s main focus now is locating another site to hold its annual children’s Christmas party, which was set for Dec. 23, Browne said.
“We do the children’s party every year,” he said. “It’s important for the community. I don’t want to disappoint those kids. I would like to keep it in the West End.”
Richard Papetti, who has served as a grand knight and as a bartender for the Knights, said the fire was a stunning blow for the community.
“The fire has affected all those who have given their heart and soul to the community and the Church,” Papetti said. “The Knights have been an important part of life in Long Beach for over 80 years. Many people were affected emotionally and yet the one thing on the front of everyone's mind is the children’s Christmas party.
“Grand Knight Ron Browne has been an instrumental force in survival after the storm along with many volunteers. The impact of the fire and the hope of rebuilding is a question no one is ready to answer right now.”
Carol Kenney, who has lived in the West End for 28 years, said the building has served as a vital cog for those in need after the storm, distributing clothing, food and warm encouragement to storm-weary residents.
Kenney said she stopped in about three weeks ago for a cup of coffee and she ended up volunteering for five hours.
“It was amazing,” she said. “It was a place where people could just get a hot meal. They were a shining star for the community. It was just a welcoming place.
“Those people were angels in a time of need. They were doing great things. I hope things get better for them.”
She added that it’s time for the community to give back by helping to raise money to repair the building.
In the meantime, Browne said he will hold Knights of Columbus meetings in his living room if he has to. He said he was waiting for the final assessment on the burned-out building.Be a Follower. Explore and subscribe to Patch groups.
“Right now, there are four walls and no roof,” said Browne, whose group boasts 365 members. “The building is done, it’s finished. But we will rebuild in the same spot. We will still be involved in the community and we will still serve the parishes in the community.
“This is a nightmare,” Browne added. “I can’t believe this happened, but we’re going to bounce back. I refuse to let that building go down.”
Anyone interesting in helping the Knights can call Browne at (516) 889-0701.
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