Local 19 donations bring the holiday season to those in need

SMW19 Community Donations
SMW19 Community Donations

Throughout the holiday season and beyond, Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 19 and its members have been helping those in need throughout the region, providing donations and volunteers to help local families. Many families across Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey have experienced hardships, and Local 19 is proud to give back to the community which gives so much to us.

Helping Philadelphians in Need

“Every year, Local 19 has been blessing us with a donation,” said the Rev. Bob Paul, pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church, which is located in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia and has a focus on serving those most vulnerable outside the church — the elderly, the hungry and the economically disadvantaged.

Our union’s donations to the church helped them feed hundreds of neighborhood residents and children, as well as local first responders.

“We’ve been going into the Logan community. We have been feeding the Logan Elementary School, which is directly across the street from our church. We feed the entire staff, including the faculty,” said Rev. Paul. “We also go into the Piney Grove Day Care, where we also feed the faculty. They do daycare and evening activities for children in the community, so helping them has tremendous impact. We also go to some homeless shelters in the community.”

Rev. Paul said that anyone who came to the church the Tuesday before Thanksgiving received a full course Thanksgiving meal. They typically prepare about 200 meals. Unlike previous years, when people were fed on-site in the dining area, this year people were given to-go platters due to concerns with COVID-19. 

As every year, Local 19 partnered with St. James Methodist Church to feed 300 Philadelphia families during Thanksgiving. 

The Saturday before Thanksgiving, Local 19 members pitched in to fill meal boxes for the needy at St. James’ location in the Olney section of the city. The union has been working alongside the 9th Councilmanic District (now represented by Anthony Phillips) and the Carpenters Union in this effort for several years at this point. Every year, more families are given full Thanksgiving meals for the holiday. This is what the holiday should be about – service to others and making sure we all have enough.

Also, in Northeast Philadelphia, Local 19 sponsors Helping Hands in the Northeast, an organization that helps needy families with a Thanksgiving meal.

Around Christmas time, Local 19 also sponsored two families in need through a program that the Philadelphia AFL-CIO has sponsored for many years to give back to the community.

And again, Local 19 was proud to sponsor a Christmas gift giveaway at the Piney Grove Baptist Church where toys were distributed to children or families to ensure they had a Merry Christmas.

Giving Back in Bucks County

In Bucks County, Local 19 worked with the Bucks County AFL-CIO to give back to families in need. Every year the Labor Council, with help from affiliates like Local 19, make and drop off food baskets for union families in need for Christmas.

Lucy the Elephant

Lucy The Elephant
Lucy The Elephant

By Charlie Sprang

Lucy the Elephant has been standing guard over the beach in Margate City for more than 140 years. The six-story, 90-ton structure was named to the National Registry of Historical Places in 1976 and has withstood all sorts of weather conditions over the years, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Lucy was initially constructed using over one million pieces of wood, 200 kegs of nails, four tons of bolts and iron bars, and then covered with 12,000 square feet of tin. Structural repairs and upgrades were made in the early 1970s, but time has taken its toll. In August 2021, the Save Lucy Committee announced that more than half the elephant’s skin was damaged beyond repair and needed to be replaced. A  month later the famous tourist attraction was closed and work began on Lucy’s facelift.

“We had to reskin Lucy,” explained John Green, president of A.C. Gentry, the Colmar, Pennsylvania architectural sheet metal company. “We had to rip off the metal and replace it.”

A.C. Gentry is a Local 19 signatory company started by Green’s father and grandfather in 1994. The company specializes in architectural restoration and design. Green and his father, also John, are both Local 19 members, and his younger brother, Jacob, is a second-year apprentice. 

Green’s father is still active in the day-to-day operations while Green lauds his father’s overall knowledge of sheet metal work, and historical work in particular.

“I really don’t know of any other company doing this type of work,” Green said. “If you want to do historical work you have to learn it from the generation prior. Everything I know I learned from him. He’s super talented when it comes to sheet metal work and especially with the layout. He could teach a master class.”

Several of their projects – the roof restoration at St. Francis De Sales in West Philadelphia, the copper cross restoration at St. John the Baptist in Manayunk, and the cupola restoration at both Haverford College and the Overbrook School in Malvern – are featured on their website (www.acgentryinc.com).

A.C. Gentry has 12 full-time employees and Green said they all took the initiative to learn the intricacies of doing historical sheet metal work. Four employees from Gentry, along with Green or his father, worked on the Lucy the Elephant job for nine months. 

“The first thing we had to do was remove all the skin that was on there,” Green said. “We didn’t do it all at once; we did it section by section. We broke it down into quadrants: three on the sides and four around. There were a total of 12 quadrants, each 10 foot by 10 foot.”

Removing the skin exposed damage to the wood frame, one of several challenges they would face. Green said, “It looked like a shipbuilder made it; there was a lot of rot. They had to call a carpenter in to do the woodwork.”

There would be other challenges as well. First and foremost was Lucy’s shape. No piece was flat nor was it the same as the one next to it. They did a majority of the bending on site and were working with a material called Monel, which is a nickel-tin alloy similar to copper, but with the characteristics of stainless steel. According to a description in Wikipedia, Monel alloys are resistant to corrosion by many aggressive agents, including seawater, and they can be fabricated by hot and coldworking, machining, and welding.

The Save Lucy Committee, which received a grant from the National Park Service and did a lot of fund-raising to pay for the project, researched and selected the material, purchasing 12,000 square feet in 3-foot by 8-foot sheets (400 total) at a cost of $1,200 per sheet. Since each piece had to be fabricated to form Lucy’s contour and fit the next one, there was a lot of waste – but every scrap was saved.

“The panels were not put together haphazardly,” Green explained. “The key was to figure out how to do it. There is not a piece that is the same as another and they are all rounded. We saved every little piece, thinking ‘I can do something with this one, or I can do something with that one.’”

“The real challenge with Lucy was that Lucy had a big belly. Imagine putting a piece of sheet metal on a wall to patch the wall – it’s flat. But Lucy was like a ball. She had concave curves and convex curves and they all locked together. Imagine making a ball out of sheet metal. It’s hard. So, you have these flat pieces that you first have to roll out, then you put your bends in. You roll it one way and then roll it the other way. Then you had to pull the panels out so they locked together.”

The panels were fastened together with custom-made metal clips – two per side – and they were locked in, one next to the other. Since each panel was unique and basically had to be cut and formed as they went along it was not only very labor intensive, but also required finding solutions on the fly.

Over time it came together. The final step was a water test with the help of the local fire department. Before that, though, Green and one of his employees, Paul Carter, who along with Alex Ambron, was instrumental in doing the work, spent a month going over every inch of Lucy, fine checking all the details.

Lucy the Elephant passed the test. The scaffolding came down right before Christmas and the Save Lucy Committee held its grand opening on December 28.