For two months, Danielle Russo-Zahlman did not pay much mind to the familiar face in the Chase Bank ATM lobby at 655 N. Wellwood Ave. in Lindenhurst.
“At first, you know, I did what everybody else did, I walked in did my bank transaction, said hello to him and walked out,” Russo-Zahlman, 38, of Lindenhurst said.
A former counselor, Russo-Zahlman eventually realized the familiar face, James Blakla, frequented the bank, as well as the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church along N. Wellwood Ave., because that was his hangout. Blakla has been homeless for eight years.
Saturday night, Russo-Zahlman decided she would help her new acquaintance get back on his feet.
The next day, she invited the man into her home, where he has been welcome to shower, eat dinner and rest until 10:30 p.m. every night this past week. Armed only with her counseling experience and spare time, she makes arrangements to give Blakla safety and stability.
“When I saw James and I knew that I knew the steps to take to like, get him the help that he really needs, I said, ‘Screw this, I’m doing it,’” Russo-Zahlman. “‘I’m doing it.’”
She and a friend, Nick Brunie established a GoFundMe page Monday to raise $3,000 for a down payment on a studio apartment for Blakla. They have already received $600 from 21 donors, including Lindenhurst Mayor Michael Lavorata.
Lavorata also helped Russo-Zahlman secure a room for Blakla at the Marina Motel at a reduced rate of $100 per night. The mayor charged the first two nights for Blakla’s stay in the motel on his personal credit card and agreed to take responsibility for the integrity of the room.
Russo-Zahlman and Brunie plan to seek cash donations and use personal funds to ensure Blakla can stay at the hotel until they have enough money to secure a studio apartment.
People can donate to their “James’ starting over fund” established on GoFundMe here.
Top: Courtesy photo of James Blakla in Lindenhurst.