When Penn State alumnus Dave Burkett was issued a mandatory evacuation the night before Superstorm Sandy swept across the Eastern coast in October of 2012, he said he was reluctant to leave his rented home in Manahawkin, New Jersey.
“The year before, they made us evacuate for Hurricane Irene and there was no damage,” Burkett said. “We were thinking, ‘They made a big fuss about it last year. It’s probably going to be the same thing. It’s not going to be that bad,’” he said.
When Burkett, who attended Penn State as an undergraduate from 1994-98, returned to his home the next day, he said there was over three feet of water, and nearly everything in the house was unsalvageable.
Upon hearing Burkett’s story, Zeno’s Pub owner Christopher Brida — still a close friend of Burkett’s — acted quickly in support of Burkett through the event titled “Benefit for a Friend.”
“The one thing about Zeno’s that I always thought was unique is that the staff here, the musicians here and the regulars tend to make up an extended family and look out for each other.
“That’s how we truly feel about it, and we needed to go out there and try to help one of our own,” Brida said.
In a large community effort, 20 downtown State College businesses and six local bands came out in droves last night at Zeno’s in solidarity with Burkett, a former employee at the Phyrst and of Brida at Zeno’s.
Burkett said that although he lost a lot to Sandy, he wanted the proceeds from the event to go toward more than just him.
“I’m going to take a portion of the funds that are raised tonight and donate it to a local relief fund in Manahawkin to help my community,” Burkett said.
“I hope to at least take some of this and show people back in New Jersey what a great community State College is,” he said.
The night kicked off strong with original music from local act Erin Condo & The Hoofties. Condo, a nine-year veteran of the State College music scene, said the band jumped at the rare opportunity to play Zeno’s at a reasonable hour.
“I used to play here with a different band about nine or 10 years ago,” she said.
Harold Taddy with Jon Spearly, Biscuit Jam, The Nightcrawlers, Pure Cane Sugar and Ted McCloskey and the Hi-Fis with Mark Daubert also performed.
Elaine Meder-Wilgus, co-owner of Webster’s Bookstore Café, was also in attendance of the event and said she knew Burkett, Condo and many of the other attendees personally.
“You can give 10 bucks to the Red Cross, but when you know someone personally, it’s just the right thing to do,” she said.
In addition to proceeds from the three-dollar cover for entry, the event featured a Chinese auction with an array of donations from local vendors, ranging from Penn State football jerseys to gift certificates from businesses all over town.
Meder-Wilgus said she contributed a Webster’s gift basket for the auction.
Burkett, who has gone on to work in an environmental consulting firm out of New Jersey, said he was overwhelmed and couldn’t speak kindly enough about the musicians and other members of the community who came out in support of him and other victims of Hurricane Sandy.
“I think it goes to show that this is just a fantastic student body and a fantastic Penn State and State College family,” he said.