While Army Ranger Christopher Levi may hail from Holbrook, he is now part of the Mineola family. Levi, who was badly injured while serving in Iraq, losing both his legs in addition to severe damage to his right arm, came to be known in the Village of Mineola thanks to the efforts of resident Bill Urianek, who began raising money for the war hero two years ago.
At Wednesday night's meeting of the , Urianek and Levi came together as the veteran was honored by the community for his sacrifice. Urianek also presented the Levi family with money he had raised from his efforts of collecting bottles and cans, a venture that spanned the last two and a half years.
Levi was injured in March 2008 when a roadside bomb exploded while he was riding in a Humvee. He was sent to Walter Reed Hospital to be fitted with new titanium legs and begin his rehabilitation. It was then that Urianek read an article about efforts to raise money to make the Levi home handicapped accessible. Urianek began his fundraising efforts by collected bottles and cans, which he would redeem for 5 cents each.
"There are a lot of things that happened in the last two and half years that I will never forget," Levi said. "Some of the people I met along the way, I can never thank them enough for what they did."
Urianek's original goal was to collected 10,000 bottles and cans, which would have amounted to $500. The longtime Mineola resident would wind up turning in over 70,000 bottles and cans as well as collecting monetary donations. He received an anonymous donation of five $100 bills. "One day, there was a knock at my door. A young fellow gave me a check. I went inside and I put my glasses on; it was a $1,000 check," Urianek said.
With the help of others including Mineola American Legion Post #349 Commander Sal Cataldo, Urianek raised over $11,000 for the Levi family. He presented a check to the war veteran Wednesday evening for $2,000 after having presented Levi's mother Debbie a check for the other proceeds at a previous meeting. "This is a little Christmas present from the people of Mineola," he said. "I just wish it was 10 times that amount."
Levi was welcomed into Village Hall meeting room along with his mother Debbie to a standing ovation. "It's always hard to accept such generosity from so many people because there are so many stories of selfless sacrifice," Levi said. "I know I speak for a lot of my fellow servicemen, it comes so natural to be selfless, to put that other person in front of you. To accept this kind of generosity from this group of people, it's very humbling, endearing and special."
The members of the Mineola Junior Fire Department, Boy Scouts from Troop 45, Cataldo and Mineola Veterans of Foreign Wars Private Adolph Block Post #1305 Commander Manny Grilo were also present to recognize Levi for his service to the country. and the Village Board presented him with the key to the Village.
Perhaps Cataldo, who is well known for his lengthy rants at village meetings over the years, put it best when he said, "For the first time in my life, I'm speechless."