An Amityville American Legion post whose headquarters was badly damaged by superstorm Sandy and then by thieves who destroyed its heating and cooling system will benefit from Babylon Town's inaugural Kayaking for a Cause race.
The Sept. 19 race is expected to draw more than 100 kayakers to town water trails that start and finish near Cedar Beach Marina in the Great South Bay. This year's entry fees of $35 for adults and $15 for children will go toward Hunter Squires Jackson American Legion Post 1218.
Founded by three Amityville men -- Arthur Hunter, Arthur Squires and Frederick Jackson -- who served with the Army's 360th Regiment during World War I, the 1218's early members were African-American and American Indian veterans denied entry to other local posts.
It grew into a community institution, hosting NAACP meetings and funding extracurricular activities in Amityville schools. A ladies' auxiliary visited local hospitals and delivered turkeys to needy families on Thanksgiving and Christmas; young people joined its sports teams and its drum and bugle corps.
Post Commander Charles Martin, a retired postal worker, said he and other members finished the banquet hall of the Dixon Avenue headquarters in the mid-1990s, doing much of the work themselves on weekends.
But the building was hard hit by Sandy in October 2012 and by thieves who gutted the rooftop HVAC in 2013. Without heat, pipes froze and a specially built dance floor was ruined. The post was no longer able to rent out its hall, a source of income for veterans organizations.
Martin said the thieves, who were caught, did $60,000 in damage to steal metal worth $500 when sold as scrap. "It's beyond me why somebody would do that," he said last week. "It's just like somebody cut the legs out from under you. It paralyzed this post."
The building is now uninhabitable, town officials say. Post members meet at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Copiague, and auxiliary members meet at the hamlet's public library.
Membership has dropped from about 130 in the late 1990s to 43, Martin said, with a ladies' auxiliary of 51, according to volunteer coordinator Jacqueline Jackson. "There were a lot of things we were involved in in the community that we're not able to do now," she said.
Deputy Town Supervisor Antonio Martinez said Kayaking for a Cause is unlikely to cover all the repairs for Post 1218, but will start to address some of the most pressing problems. "This is a great organization that has given so much to Amityville," he said. "It's our responsibility to help our veterans."
Martin, who is 75 and still visits the empty post to cut the grass and keep the parking lot clear of refuse, said the cash raised by the kayak race will help, but will send a message that's more important: "Once people hear about the town helping, they'll get on board," he said.
Fixed up, the post will once more serve as a gathering place, he said: "You get 200 people in there, it's joyful."
Kayak racers can register and pay online at townofbabylon.com or by sending a check made out to Hunter Squires Jackson American Legion Post 1218. The check can be sent to Kayaking for a Cause, Supervisor's Office. Babylon Town Hall, 200 E. Sunrise Hwy., Lindenhurst, NY 11757. For more information, visit the town website or call 631-893-2100.