Smithtown’s American Legion needs a new roof, post officers said.
It needs many things — the Juniper Avenue parking lot is crumbling and the banquet hall floor dips where the termites have been feeding — but the roof is so urgent James Ely Miller Post 833 members plan an April 29 fundraiser and seek grants to help cover the estimated $40,000 replacement cost.
“The hall is at risk,” said Anthony Cannella, 64, of Smithtown, a Cold War Army veteran who is the post’s chaplain and facilities director, on a recent tour of the barn-shaped banquet hall. A century ago, it was an actual barn and part of the Miller family farm. Now, dozens of shingles are missing or peeling. Inside, leaks have stained ceiling tiles. A year ago during a bad rain one of the tiles collapsed, he said.
The parking lot and the floor, they could live with. But “without a roof, the building’s not secure,” threatening the expensive HVAC system and the new banquet hall lights that members had installed several years ago, he said.
Cannella and Richie Pandolf, 78, of Smithtown, a Vietnam-era Army veteran who is the post’s second vice commander, attributed the post's predicament to two causes.
The proximate cause is COVID. From February to September 2020, the post’s biggest source of revenue, hall rentals, slowed, then stopped. The $500 rental fees used to earn $30,000 to $40,000 a year, but when revenue dried up, the insurance, gas and electric bills didn’t. Nor did the need from the veterans’ causes the post supports. Together, those expenses near $24,000 annually. Rentals are slowly coming back but are no more than half what they were pre-pandemic, Cannella said.
The other factor is age. The largest cohort of the post’s roughly 125 members are Vietnam-era veterans in their mid- to late 70s; the youngest member is in his 40s. About 20 regularly attend meetings. When the mostly male membership was young, even middle-aged, “we had the know-how” and skills to do a lot of basic upkeep themselves, Pandolf said.
Some, like Cannella, vice president for Conair, a Garden City Park contractor, even worked in the construction fields. Now, Cannella said, “I go up a 14-foot ladder, I look down and I don’t know anymore…Too many guys physically can’t do it anymore.”
There may be some hope for government help. In February, Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport) introduced a bill that would allow certain veterans organizations to apply for grants of up to $50,000. “The effort by American Legion post 833 is indicative of the greater need of Long Island veterans’ halls for support to stay open and operational in the wake of the pandemic,” he said, in an email.
In March, Nassau officials announced a similar program with $10,000 grants. Suffolk funds grants to veterans organizations through its annual marathon, though the grants cannot be used for capital projects, a county spokeswoman said.
Tickets to the Miller Post’s potluck cost $10, and there will be raffle sales and an auction. Further information is at the post website, alpost833ny.org.