Thirty-five years ago Saturday, Harry Chapin, composer, musician, singer and good guy from Long Island, died at age 38 in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway in Jericho. In midafternoon, his Volkswagen Rabbit veered into the path of a tractor-trailer, leading to a fiery wreck.
Fans were stunned to hear the news as they arrived at a concert he was to perform that night at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. The whole Island was in a state of shock. Harry was one of us!
Even as he was enjoying success with such hits as “Cat’s in the Cradle” and “Taxi,” he had devoted himself to charitable causes. Newsday reported that of about 220 concerts he performed each year, about half were benefits.
A year before he died, Chapin started Long Island Cares. At the beginning, it was simply a food bank. Thanks to his surviving family members and friends, a dedicated staff and lots of volunteers, it is now so much more. It distributes more than 8 million pounds of food and supplies a year via more than 590 food pantries, shelters, group homes, senior nutrition sites and more in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Its pet pantry collects pet food, so poor kids don’t have to get rid of their dogs or cats. Its Schools Tools Program stuffs backpacks with supplies for low-income families, and it runs programs for veterans, including a job development program.
I became a volunteer with Long Island Cares. My first volunteer job was to maintain a table at a dog parade at Shorefront Park in Patchogue in May 2015. People came with their dogs, and a DJ from WBAB who played “Hound Dog,” “Walkin’ the Dog,” etc. There were costume contests, good behavior contests (for the dogs, not the humans) and a cutest dog contest.
Families, couples and teens attended. Kids playing at the park were attracted to all the dogs. There were a lot of bikers, too, because local rocker Dee Snider’s yearly Ride to End Hunger raises money for Long Island Cares.
What surprised me was how people of all ages, with or without dogs, stopped by our table to ask questions and to donate money. They talked about Harry Chapin and how much they still miss him.
Lots of people remembered exactly where they were when they heard about the accident. Some had been on their way to Chapin’s concert at Eisenhower Park, like my friend Franny. One kid told me his father always played Chapin’s songs, so he knew all the words.
You did good, Harry!
Reader Patricia Collins lives in Middle Island.