Red Cross, local volunteers make best of iced-out holiday week
Belfast — A warm place to stay, a bed to sleep in, and three hot meals a day.
These are things many take for granted in an ordinary situation, but during the aftermath of the ice storm that pulled the plug on Waldo County when it arrived Monday, Dec. 23, those comforts — and a lot of caring volunteers — were what got locals through the ordeal.
As many as 40 Waldo County residents celebrated Christmas at Troy Howard Middle School after the school was designated as an emergency shelter Monday night, according to Sharon Collin with the American Red Cross.
Power outages across the county hit a peak of about 87,000 Tuesday morning, Dec. 24, and as of 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 27, Central Maine Power reported more than 1,600 Waldo County customers were still in the dark.
While many would not consider it an ideal way to observe the holiday, Collin said everyone at the shelter works to make the best of it, one day at a time.
"We try to keep things normal," she said.
Collin, who was seated at the registration desk where guests check in before entering and utilizing the shelter Friday morning, Dec. 27, said each individual or family that checks in to the shelter is asked to fill out a registration form. That way the staff and volunteers will be aware of any health issues that may need to be addressed, and Collin said the Red Cross came prepared with items such as wheel chairs and special beds for anyone who might need that kind of equipment during their stay.
The organization brought in a staff member with medical training to address any problems that arise, and also provided temporary residents with someone to talk to when the stress of the storm got to be too much for them.
"We have a mental health person on staff to help people with anxieties, things like that," said Collin.
Collin praised the Regional School Unit 20 staff, many of whom she said volunteered to help with meal preparation, and RSU 20 School Nurse Ellie Weaver, who Collin described as "a godsend."
And the guests themselves came together to make the best of the situation, too.
"A lot of the locals took over this morning and cooked breakfast for everyone," she said.
A couple who celebrated their recent engagement at the school was busy cleaning up the cafeteria in preparation for lunch, and in the hallway, a set of hand-knitted hats hung on the wall with a sign offering them to anyone who needed one for warmth.
All the shelter guests enjoyed a holiday chicken dinner with all the fixings, and Collin said the menu included dessert thanks to the generosity of other locals who wished to help make Christmas a little merrier.
"Someone had ice cream and cake donated," she said.
In addition to providing three hot meals a day, volunteers spent their days arranging rides for those who had trouble getting out of their homes safely. Officers with the Belfast Police Department assisted with transporting residents to the school as well, which Collin said was also a big help.
Those who had pets to care for were able to bring their animals to the school, too, as the Red Cross designated one classroom space to house dogs and cats that were contained in their individual kennels.
"So the pet owners don't have to be separated from their loved ones," said Collins.
The gymnasium was filled with cots to accommodate all who came to the shelter for a warm bed and regular meals, but Collin said as of Friday some locals who had power restored were still faced with repairing damaged water pipes and other issues related to the storm.
"Some people are coming in during the day to grab a meal or a shower to tide them over," Collin said. "It's been like a revolving door."
Slowly but surely, though, the number of residents at the shelter has dwindled.
"Right now our population is at about 12," said Collin Friday morning. "We're hoping that by the end of the day today or tomorrow everyone will have their power restored and they can go back home."
Until that happens, Collin said, the Red Cross will remain at the school ready to help those in need.
"We're here until [we’re] closed," said Collin. "Then when the kids come back to school next week it'll be like nothing ever happened."
207-338-3333 ext. 109
Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.
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