Ron Browne, the grand knight of the Long Beach Knights of Columbus, stood on the corner of West Beech Street and Minnesota Avenue last Friday, where the group’s building stood for 40 years.
Behind a fence on the vacant, rubble-strewn property, a case of bottled water sat untouched — a leftover of the much-needed supplies the Knights distributed to the community after powering up emergency generators just two days after Hurricane Sandy.
“That’s Sandy water,” Browne said as he greeted friends passing on the street. “We served over 500 meals here on Thanksgiving. We also served people outside Long Beach with food, water heaters and other supplies, and we were volunteering our time.”
For many West End residents, disaster struck twice in 2012: on Oct. 29, when the storm hit, and on Dec. 10, when a fire ripped through the Knights’ one-story headquarters at 970 W. Beech St., destroying what had become a symbol of hope after the storm.
Members said that the fire was caused by a leak in a gas pipe that was damaged by the storm, and nearby residents said they were devastated by the news, especially since the organization had been using the facility to help storm victims.
Last week, however, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved a variance to allow the Knights of Columbus, which was formed in 1927, to build a new two-story headquarters. More than 100 residents turned out to show their support for the organization, including County Legislator Denise Ford, a West End resident.
For Browne and his 355 fellow members, the approval meant “satisfaction that we can get back up and running.”
“We’re still contributing to the community,” he said, adding that the Knights have been working out of St. Ignatius Martyr Church and servicing a number of parishes on the barrier island. “We are ecstatic about the decision — it was all a community effort.”