He's an 'angel' to Lindenhurst residents

Bruce Casagrande, right, gets a hug from Estelle

Bruce Casagrande, right, gets a hug from Estelle Blush, of Lindenhurst, after delivering her some warm meals as she recovers from superstorm Sandy in Lindenhurst. (Nov. 10, 2012) (Credit: Ed Betz)

Bruce Casagrande may not drive an ice cream truck, but when he pulls into south Lindenhurst neighborhoods, the response is the same.

Full of anticipation and gratitude, residents run out of their homes and gleefully line up behind his pickup truck. Casagrande, 62, brings these storm-battered residents something sweeter than ice cream: hot meals, gas, propane, kerosene, firewood, and his own creation -- car battery converters that give residents some power.

Casagrande grew up in Lindenhurst and now owns Auto Emporium in Amityville, where he also lives. Last Monday, he wanted to help his old community but couldn't find any active organizations. Then he heard about the Camp Bulldog site at Surfside 3 Marina on Wellwood Avenue, where food and clothing were being distributed. He's been there every day since. Casagrande also created a website (helplindy.com), which aims to connect specific needs with people looking to help.

A few days ago at work, Casagrande spotted a stack of car batteries and thought he could use them to help residents without power. He found a converter and special power strips online for this very purpose. The batteries can power a couple of small appliances or a light, he said, and can last two days. Soon, he began his nighttime deliveries, picking up when Camp Bulldog closes.

"It's another world after it gets dark," he said. That's when the darkness and the cold make already miserable circumstances even worse, he said.

On Friday, Casagrande arrived on Linden Street to deliver gas to Arthur Borthwick, 59. Borthwick's stepdaughter Alice Rodriguez, 44, jumped up and down in the street as he pulled up. "Yay, you made it!" she shouted. "I've never been so happy to see somebody." Borthwick was also relieved to get the gas he uses for two generators, one of which powers a lamp. "Just to have a little light, it helps," he said.

Casagrande opened up the back of his truck, brought out a small radio and started playing the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man." As he filled Borthwick's canisters, neighbors started to approach. Casagrande offered residents his other supplies. "Do you need any flashlights? Firewood?" he asked.

When it was Dan Matteo's turn for gas, he incredulously asked Casagrande, "You drive around giving out gas?" As Casagrande nodded, Matteo patted him on the back. "You are a good man." Matteo is helping out his father, Joseph, 51, who lost his car to several feet of water.

Soon, Casagrande was on his way again.

He goes through 25 to 30 gallons of gas a night. When he runs out, he heads home.

When he arrived at George King's home on South Ninth Street, King greeted Casagrande with a warm hug. "This guy is an angel," King said. In addition to gas, Casagrande brought hot food to the residents here.

"The food is a godsend," King, 64, said. "We haven't left the house since the storm. I haven't had a real meal in 12 days."

For Ann Mossey, 73, pure joy came in the form of the buttered bread Casagrande brought her, which she could have with tea now that her gas was turned on. "Oh, it's heaven," she exclaimed.

After hearing Mossey talk about how difficult it is to walk around with a flashlight, Casagrande ran out to his truck. He came back with a car battery and explained to a skeptical Mossey that she could now turn on a lamp. "He's the electricity angel," she said.

Casagrande's work has its drawbacks. Like the time he was mistaken for a looter and police officers drew their guns on him. Or the fact that every night it takes him three showers before he can get the smell of gasoline off his skin. And then there are the costs, which are running into the thousands.

"I don't even think about the money," he said. "When you see these people and what they're going through, how could you?"

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