In flood recovery, a joining in Fort Plain
Events celebrate region as residents grow closer
FORT PLAIN Cyndi Tracy lives in Canajoharie and now knows more Fort Plain residents than she ever bargained for. Some of them she knows by name, some by address and some by the quantity and severity of their need.
Kern needs new hot water heaters. Bill from Schoharie is always up here, tearing porches off houses and gutting homes. Even the elderly gentleman at 12 Abbott St., who has a whole house to repair, will stop by at least twice a week with lunch or coffee or soda. And then there’s the master carpenter who traveled all the way from Florida to help.
“See, going down Reid Street, I can tell you just about everybody who lives there,” Tracy said Saturday from inside the visitor’s booth in Fort Plain’s Haslett Park. “I know most of their children’s names and the animals, too.”
It’s the flood, of course, that brought many of these people together. Everyone will tell you so. After six weeks of sweat — mucking out basements and homes, tearing out waterlogged insulation, stripping floors and more — some were able to relax.
On Saturday, the Mohawk Valley Collective put on a fundraiser to benefit the communities affected by the June 28 flooding of the Otsquago Creek. There were raffles, chicken barbecues, ice cream, an antique and craft fair, a farmers market and live music at various locations around the area, including Haslett Park and Unity Hall in Fort Plain and West Hill School and the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie.
And because the event, Standing Strong: A River Through Time, was originally planned well before the flooding occurred, there were also activities designed to highlight the Mohawk Valley’s historical and cultural sites, like a geocaching scavenger hunt at the Nellis Tavern in St. Johnsville and the Windfall Dutch Barn in Salt Springville and a tour of the Underground Railroad starting at NBT Bank in Canajoharie.
“I just moved out here two years ago, so I actually still hadn’t known a lot of people in town,” said event organizer Angela Becofsky. “But I feel like through this, people have come together. I’ve met people that I lived next to or down the street from that I never knew before. I was in a store talking about some of the work we were doing, and a woman bought all the cleaning supplies I was checking out. I think we’ve come together in a way that only disasters like this can make happen.”
Becofsky got involved with the Mohawk Valley Collective, a nonprofit that preserves historic buildings and promotes the cultural heritage of the region, right after the flooding and said there was never any question Saturday’s proceeds would go to help flood victims.
Proceeds will technically go to Catholic Charities of Fulton and Montgomery Counties, but will be disbursed through the Fulton Montgomery Long Term Recovery Committee, formed nearly two years ago after tropical storms Irene and Lee.
“We kept the events spread apart because it is also our goal to help bridge communities and bring people together so that these small towns can work together,” Becofsky said, “because when you do that, I think more people come together and volunteer their time.”
Some village residents are starting to wonder if Tracy, who now knows even their pets’ names, lives in the visitor’s booth in the park. She can often be found in the tiny enclosed gazebo, seated behind a table covered in paperwork and surrounded by supplies, baked goods and a coffee pot.
She’s not even an official volunteer, she admits. Really, she got dragged into the whole thing, but that’s just fine with her. She knew someone at a local church who asked if she could help out one day, and the next thing she knew, she was manning the visitor’s booth, overseeing the paperwork, directing skilled and unskilled volunteers to homes and helping out wherever she could.
“I’ve been here since like, three or four days after the flood,” said Tracy, checking with fellow volunteer April Sharp, who added that there have been a few Sundays people have found her here.
Music pours in through the open door. Anywhere from 50 to 100 people filtered through the park and the various vendor booths early Saturday afternoon.
“Do you sleep here at night?” asked a woman who had just stepped inside.
Tracy, who was watching a video on her phone of a porch being pulled off a flooded home, looks up to help the woman out. They seem to know each other and exchange laughs easily.
“Where is the best place to send my check?” the woman asks eventually. “I’ve already given quite a bit, and I gave food and everything to some people. I’m a widow, so I don’t have a lot, but I’ve been trying to do the best I can.”
Tracy nods in understanding and recommends she write a check to Catholic Charities. She also assures the woman she doesn’t sleep in the booth.