Tish Christensen loaded paper plates with hot dogs and macaroni salad on Thursday, and hoped a new friend would come back for seconds.
“Please spread the word,” she said, inviting more people around flood-ravaged Fort Plain to a Fourth of July picnic in Haslett Park on Main Street.
Christensen and other members of the civic-minded H.C. Smith Benefit Club in St. Johnsville served summer fare to people whose homes and businesses were damaged by last week’s floodwaters. The picnic also was open to people who were on the job clearing up mud and throwing out debris.
“There is no grocery store in this village anymore,” Christensen said. “It got wiped out over there because of the flooding, the Save A Lot. All the local businesses have been decimated in Fort Plain.”
The Smith club decided Monday to bring Fourth of July spirit to Fort Plain. On the menu were hots, hamburgers, meatballs, chips and cold drinks. “It’s for people to come out and relax a little, have a good meal,” said Becky Hagadorn, glad to work in the hot weather.
Other people also pitched in as cleanups continued. Members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in St. Johnsville delivered bagged lunches door-to-door, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apples, cookies and bottled water.
“The reaction to cold water is amazing,” said Jennifer Feagles of St. Johnsville. “They just haven’t had it, fresh cold water. We had one lady, her hands were covered in mud and she was like, ‘Can we use one of the waters to wipe my hands?’ We opened it up and poured the water on. It’s the things you don’t think of when you have power.”
Haslett Park also will be busy Friday. The American Red Cross will open a bulk distribution site in the park at 10 a.m. Volunteers will provide water, comfort kits and cleanup supplies — including gloves, trash bags, rakes, shovels, tarps, coolers and bleach — until 2 p.m. Health service providers will also be available.
Melissa Lazzaro of Schenectady and her boyfriend, Josh Flint of Cherry Valley, were among the freelance volunteers who worked with the H.C. Smith group.
“He’s a former National Guard member who was honorably discharged in March,” Lazzaro said. “He’s kind of feeling a little left out because he’s used to being with these National Guardsmen who are here working. I just feel like I’m giving back a little. I have never volunteered before and tried to in Schoharie with the last flooding, but they had such an overwhelming amount of help they didn’t need it. I figured we’d come here.”
People appreciated the efforts.
“It’s wonderful. It’s just amazing,” said Marie Smith of Fort Plain, whose business — pet salon Grooming by Marie on Legion Street — was damaged by the muddy waters.
“They’re donating their time on the Fourth of July … ” started Smith’s daughter, Michelle Blakeslee. “ … when they could be out having a beer or two and having a party. But they’re here helping us out,” finished Smith.
Dee Marshall and Tasha Yudin were among four families that banded together and threw a second picnic in Haslett.
“We brought everything,” said Marshall of the 11-person crew. “Cases and cases of drinks, 90 pre-made sandwiches, a case of hot dogs, blankets, watermelon.”
Kids in the group knocked on doors to spread the word about the summer smorgasbord.
“We’ve been flagging people down, telling them we had a bunch of stuff over here,” said Shelby Moore, 17, who just graduated from Broadalbin High School. “They were like OK, they all came over and they were happy about it. It feels great, to help out people, it just makes me feel good.”
Jimmy Marshall, 16, a senior at Johnstown High School, said he was yelling around park streets, getting out the word about the volunteers’ picnic.
“Some people think I’m crazy, but they end up coming over in the end,” Marshall said. “Just knowing that I can do what other people can do for me if we were in this situation, it just feels a lot better.”
Maria Cole and her daughter Tina Cole of Gloversville, also decided to pitch in. “We’re doing swell. It’s fulfilling. It makes you feel good,” Marie said. “It’s a holiday, who cares? People have no place to live, no food, no water.”
Yudin said donations were collected from local people and businesses. “We have every beverage you can think of except beer. We’re saving that for later,” Yudin said, laughing.
She had no problem giving up her Fourth of July holiday.
“People are more important than a fireworks show,” she said.
In other flood-related news, the New York State Canal Corp. announced that the Erie Canal between Lock E-2 (Waterford) and Lock E-8 (Scotia), and between Guard Gate 5 (Herkimer) and Oneida Lake (Sylvan Beach), re-opened to navigation Thursday morning.
The corporation said the canal between Lock E-8 (Scotia) and Lock E-11 (Amsterdam) will reopen as soon as flows recede and conditions allow — projected to be early next week. Repair efforts continue on the canal between Lock E-11 (Amsterdam) and Lock E-18 (Jacksonburg) so that area will remain closed until further notice.
The corporation has also advised mariners that the recent heavy rainfall has led to higher water levels, increased current and debris in many sections of the canal system. Some buoys may be off station, and clearances under bridges may be reduced in areas where water levels remain elevated. Many areas may be more susceptible to wake damage due to increased water levels.
Mariners are asked to navigate with caution and report any off-station or missing navigational aids to canal officials by calling 461-0942.