SUNBURY — More than 500 ex-Wood-Mode employees packed the Shikellamy High School gymnasium Thursday night for free legal advice.
Sunbury attorney Joel Wiest, of Wiest Wiest-Benner & Rice, of Sunbury, spoke for nearly 15 minutes and then opened the floor for questions.
"I come here tonight without a suit or tie," Wiest told the crowd. "I come here tonight humbled to be able to offer you any legal help you all may need. I am no better than any of you and I want to stand with you all and help in any way I can."
Esther Kerstetter, of Middleburg, said she was a Wood-Mode employee for the past 19 years and when she learned Wiest and his firm were offering legal help she was stunned.
"What a kind and wonderful gesture for us," she said. "I am absolutely amazed at the concern and care we are getting from our community."
Kerry Hornberger, of Middleburg, worked at Wood-Mode for 32 years and he said Wiest and the community are doing more for employees than the company he worked for.
"I am just thankful we are getting advice and getting some answers to questions," he said.
Dennis Conrad, of Sunbury, a 20-year Wood-Mode employee agreed.
"I wanted to come tonight and listen and hear what our rights are," he said. "I think this was an amazing gesture and I am thankful."
Wiest spoke about insurance and told employees that even though Wood-Mode may have told employees their insurance was cancelled — it was not.
"I can assure you they can't just do that," Wiest said. "I will make sure to file the paperwork and get this into a courtroom if any of you are told you don't have insurance and we will make sure you all keep your insurance as long as possible."
The crowd applauded Wiest and one person yelled from the bleachers, "we all thank you."
In response, Wiest said he could care less about the attention he received but instead he wanted employees and family members to get a good night's sleep knowing the community was on their side.
"The simple answer is you are all welcome and I want you all to know that I don't have all the answers and I don't know everything about everything," Wiest said. "But I do know enough to be dangerous about a lot."
A woman from the crowd handed Wiest a document which discussed employees' retirement funds and Wiest reviewed the materials.
"Unless your employer lied to you," Wiest said with a pause to a loud burst of laughs from the crowd. "You will be fine with this policy."
Wiest joked with the crowd and told them he would remain in the building until every question was answered and he was overwhelmed with the response from the employees.
"I expected five to 10 people maybe," Wiest said. "I can't believe how many of you are here and to be honest under any other circumstance we would go down to the Americus Hose Co., and we would have one heck of a party."
The crowd laughed and Wiest said he considered them all friends and he would be there to help.
Kathy Kauffman, of Sunbury, worked at Wood-Mode for 19 years. She said she was concerned about legal issues, but Wiest eased her mind. "What a great person and good man," she said. "He really cares."
Wiest was joined by investment advisor John Machak, of The Wealth Factory, in Lewisburg, representatives of North Penn Legal Services, of Sunbury, staff from the office of state Rep. Lynda Culver, R-108, of Sunbury, Brian Falso, of Vandine Insurance, of Shamokin and several community volunteers who handed out fliers which told ex-employees where job fairs would be held and various emergency phones numbers for state and local leaders.
Wiest said he will be setting up a social media page for Wood-Mode employees to reach him and he would answer any questions he could.
The event lasted around two-hours. Wiest continued to meet with ex-employees as people were leaving the gym.