The COVID-19 pandemic shut schools, restaurants and social gatherings, including the local Bayport-Blue Point chapter of Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America (OSDIA). Now, the chapter is open again with a full schedule of events for the rest of the calendar year, ready to tackle Italian-American concerns with the same vigor as before the shutdown.
“There were grumblings of an international pandemic,” said Geoffrey Gerbore, president of the Sgt. John Basilone Lodge 2442, OSDIA, remembering the earliest days of the pandemic. “We had members that had trips planned to Italy, and if you remember, Italy was getting hit really hard at first—all the guidelines and protocols said to protect members by not meeting. The grand lodge said to follow all of the local protocol and, so, we stopped meeting.”
Sgt. John Basilone Lodge didn’t open again until earlier this month, in August 2021, when they held their first Monday meeting in more than a year and a half. Now that they’re back, the organization is tackling subjects important to Italian-American heritage and history.
The organization spends a big chunk of its time raising funds for various charitable endeavors, including Italian language and heritage scholarships and money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. The organization also raises money for Cooley’s anemia research, a rare blood disorder that disproportionately affects Mediterranean people.
The local chapters are also active in planning community events. Gerbore said he and his lodge are looking forward to their role in planning or attending several upcoming events, including a Christopher Columbus parade in Huntington slated for Oct. 10 and the Saint Liberata Festival in Patchogue, slated for Sept. 18. The Liberata Festival harkens back to the Catholic festivals, feasts and parades held within the winding villages and cobblestone streets of Naples, Italy.
“They’ll have the saint carried out and people will be able to pin the money on it,” he said of the festival.
As always, OSDIA and the Sgt. John Basilone chapter are on the lookout for biased portrayals of Italians in the media. Through an internal commission for social justice, OSDIA successfully fought for the fair portrayal of Italians in cinema—‘80s and ‘90s movies were rife with portrayals of Italians as gangsters. Though these portrayals are not as prevalent as they once were, the commission still continues to fight against bias and bigotry, according to Gerbore.
“It’s not as prevalent as it was a generation ago, but they used to face so much discrimination, especially Italians from the south,” he said. “Part of what we do is we fight discrimination and we work to keep a positive image for Italians. We try to name our lodges after famous Italians in the arts and sciences.”
The organization has more than 500,000 members nationwide and about 100 in the Sgt. John Basilone Lodge. Though members must demonstrate Italian heritage to join, non-Italians can join as social members. The cost is $50 for a one-time application and then $40 per year for dues. Members do not have to attend the once-a-month Monday meetings to be in good standing, though Gerbore encourages new members to stay active.
“Once you pay your dues, you’ll always be a member in good standing,” he said.
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