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Nonprofit Tries to Help American Legion Post Recover From Flood

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The American Legion post in Thornwood that was heavily damaged on the lower level by flooding during Hurricane Ida last year. Martin Wilbur photo

Four months ago, the members of the American Legion Gilbert Rauh Post 1574 had prepared to say goodbye to their longtime building on Garrigan Avenue in Thornwood.

The remnants of Hurricane Ida that swept through the region on Sept. 1 caused the nearby watercourse to overflow its banks and flooded the lower level of their facility they’ve called home for more than 65 years with more than four feet of water.

Faced with a prohibitively expensive deconstruction and renovation project, the post was considering selling the building back to the Town of Mount Pleasant for $400, a stipulation in the agreement from 1955, when the American Legion acquired the structure from the town.

Thanks to the Fuller Center for Housing of Greater New York, a nonprofit organization that focuses on building adequate housing for people in need, the Legion could have their building back someday.

On Sunday, volunteers from the Fuller Center’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) and several students from Manhattanville College began gutting the interior of the lower level. Since September, DART has seen more than 2,000 volunteers rehabilitate more than 100 homes in the county, mostly in Yonkers and Mamaroneck, said its Executive Director James Killoran. That labor has saved homeowners an estimated $5 million.

Killoran said helping veterans in need with housing-related issues is also a focus of the organization. He hopes within a month their work at the Legion building, scheduled for weekends, will be complete.

“It’s a great building, and I always thought if walls could talk, what stories, what lives have been shared about what happened and that’s pretty amazing,” he said.

Post Commander Drew McFadden said in the time following the storm and flood, the post’s members had all but given up on using the building again. Then, last month, word of the Legion’s dilemma got back to the Fuller Center and the organization scheduled several weekend days of work for the disaster response team to tear apart the moldy, unusable lower level.

Cadets from West Point were initially supposed to help last weekend, but they ran into some difficulties with the weather. They will be rescheduled for another weekend this month, Killoran said.

McFadden said he spoke to Mount Pleasant Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi on the attempts to salvage the building.

“Right now, we don’t know whether we’re going to keep it or (the town) is going to take it over, but his intent has always been to save the building if he can,” McFadden said. “These guys who are helping us, they say the upstairs is fine, 90 percent fine, that if we can clean this up and just not use it, the idea is if it floods it floods (downstairs) and just have a one-story building.”

In order to do that, the Legion will need money to hire an architect and a contractor that can design moving the utilities upstairs from the ground level and installing a small kitchen and bathroom on the upper level, he said. They will also need new furniture since they tossed what they had from before the flood.

Since September, Post 1574 had been meeting at the American Legion in Valhalla, which welcomed their group, but McFadden said the members don’t want to continually impose on the neighboring post. Fulgenzi suggested that they use the Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce building, which they did recently, but still hope to reclaim their own place, if possible, McFadden said.

The Thornwood American Legion has also hosted local organizations’ functions, including the local Italian American and German American clubs and the Young Marines.

In order for the Legion to use their building again, they will need to raise money for the necessary work to make it inhabitable. It will be expensive but the cost was lowered significantly with the help of the Fuller Center, McFadden said.

“It looks very hopeful,” he said. “Everybody, so far, is very positive and willing to help.”

For anyone who would like to donate, checks may be made payable to the American Legion and sent to American Legion, P.O. Box 92, Thornwood, N.Y. 10594.

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