May 31, 2006

Community Outpouring Of Support

Over 300 people packed the American Legion Hall in Southold recently to show their support for three fellow residents in their time of need.

The event was held to benefit CKS, an organization formed to help three Southold town residents, Kim Haeg, Charlotte Van Brunt and Steven Cielatka, all of whom have been stricken by tragedy and yet, have had the support and love of their family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers to bolster them through their days of uncertainty.

Once organizers including Karen Blasko MacDonald heard that the three were facing seemingly insurmountable financial obstacles due to their illnesses — Haeg was paralyzed two years ago in a horrific car accident in Mattituck; Van Brunt is battling cervical cancer that has spread to her spine, and Cielatka is currently in remission from leukemia — she sounded the cry for help.

What ensued was the story of a small town pulling together in a big way. And, in the end, their hard work paid off: "We raised over $20,000," said MacDonald. "It was unbelievable. That's the one great thing about living in a small community. Everyone pulls together to help you."

According to MacDonald, it all started when Don Tonyes of Southold Automotive decided that he wanted to do a fundraiser. After discussing the three residents who needed help, a committee was organized and Friends of CKS was born.

Volunteers began meeting every Monday night back in February, and nothing kept them from going forward with their good-hearted goal. Even McDonald, who developed breast cancer herself in the ensuing months, was undaunted in her mission.

"I couldn't do anything until I was done with my treatments," she said. "But as soon as I finished and started feeling better, I said, 'I'm ready to start this,' and we began having meetings at my house."

Their single-minded determination was sparked by sincere concern for the small-town residents with whom their lives have long been intertwined. "We know all three of these recipients," said MacDonald. "I've known Charlotte all my life. I know Steven because I worked with both him and his mom at Claudio's. I know Kim from when she used to work at Curves."

Once the word was out that the fundraiser was being organized, the donations started pouring in: Over 300 gift baskets were donated, as well as gifts from local merchants, area businesses, and "ordinary people," said MacDonald.

The singular attention to detail was the hallmark of the event: Volunteers began their day as early at 6 a.m., setting up color-coordinated decorations, gift bags, and tickets. And, with such a dazzling array of donated prizes, including a $2000 hand-carved swan and a night at the Manhattan Club, the night lasted until the wee hours, with organizers not leaving until about 1:30 in the morning.

"I am so touched by what this community has done," said MacDonald. "They should be very proud of themselves."

The organizing committee, including Tonyes, MacDonald and her husband, Neil, Aileen Reed, Patty Young, Kevin and Lori Quillen, Doreen Stanzoni, and Cathy Dunn, put in long hours to make the dream a reality. "Without everyone's help we would have never have been able to do this," said MacDonald.

Cielatka, Haeg, and Van Brunt, will share the proceeds of the event. "The money is going to be split three ways. For Kim, we're buying medical supplies, for Steven, we're paying medical bills. And for Charlotte, we're paying for hospice nurses and supplies."

Lorraine Haeg, Kim's mom, had bouquets of thanks. "They did a very good job. It's wonderful that people would do something it took a lot of work to put it together. I want to thank them totally."

Barbara Hagerty, Van Brunt's sister, said Charlotte sent her thanks to everyone, including the 12 EMTs who came to her home and carried her out to her sister's car so that she could attend the event and then later, returned and carried her back upstairs to her home.

Hagerty said her sister wished to pass along a message to her legions of angels: "The Van Brunt family would like to express their deepest thanks to all who made this event successful," she said. "The heartfelt unconditional love and support of the entire community's outpouring shows what we North Fork People are really about."

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