Photos: Scallop dinner benefits American Legion restoration

Local residents munched on freshly harvested Peconic Bay scallops at Hanffs Boat Yard in Greenport Saturday not only because they love to eat scallops, but because they would like to see the Greenport American Legion building thrive once again.

George Costello, who is leading the restoration effort, said this was the fourth benefit held since he visited the building last November and saw how desperately the building needed renovations.

“It freaked me out,” Mr. Costello said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Since then, Mr. Costello and other members of the Burton Potter American Legion Post 185 created the Greenport American Legion Building Fund and have been holding membership drives, applying for grants and organizing benefits to raise funds to restore the building that has been closed for about five years.

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About $100,000 has been raised so far, he said, but over $30,000 was already used earlier this year for roof repair.  The Legion is hoping to secure a $400,000 state grant in order to complete the restoration effort.

“There’s a lot of competition for this grant and my gut feeling is we have a 70 percent chance of getting it,” Mr. Costello said. “If we have to raise it all, then we’ll do it.”

Mr. Costello said the community’s support is what keeps him focused. He has received dozens of letters from local residents, which mostly describe memories of the rolling skating rink, meeting their future spouse, taking their grandchildren skating or catching up with old friends at the building.

“Four generations have skated there,” he said. “Reading those letters, it just makes it that much more important to me.”

Al Vonhassel, a Greenport resident who has been catching scallops all his life, said he donated 75 pounds of scallops for the dinner to help out. Mr. Vonhassel said he harvested most of them on opening day last week in Indian Neck.

“I ran into George in the deli a couple of weeks ago and we came up with the idea of a scallop benefit dinner,” Mr. Vonhassel said. “The building is very important to all of us.”

A group of volunteers assembled a production line outside the boat yard to get the scallops cooked. Barbara Richter of Greenport took the raw scallops and dipped them into an egg batter. Then Jamie Cogan of Shelter Island floured the seafood so the bread crumbs would stick when Paul Dinizio of Greenport breaded them.

“I prefer to eat them raw,” said Ms. Richter as she cleaned her hands.

Ms. Richter’s husband, Craig, was in charge of frying the scallops.

“They smell terrific,” he said, dropping a batch of golden brown scallops into an aluminum tray. “Nothing beats scallops.”

Dinner included bake potatoes, cole slaw, brownies and a surprise musical performance by Babylon-based Saffron United Pipe Band.

Lifelong friends Anne Vixon and Betty Schloss said while they are big fans of scallops, they decided to attend the dinner because they believed it was for a good cause.

“We hope they do more of these dinners,” Ms. Schloss said. “It’s important to help out the Legion.”

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JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Craig Richter of Greenport cooks scallops Saturday night during the Peconic Bay Scallop Dinner at Hanffs Boat Yard in Greenport. Proceeds from the dinner will go toward restoring the Greenport American Legion Building.