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Shelter welcomed people and their pets

As many as 29 people at a time used the Recreation Center as a temporary home after Sandy.

John McAuliffe of Hessian Drive said Monday that he’d stayed in the town shelter at the Recreation Center since Tuesday night, nearly a week, and had brought in his two cats Thursday when it started getting cold. —Macklin Reid photo

Needing shelter in the storm — or showers, or coffee, or wifi — Ridgefielders went the Recreation Center on Danbury Road.

“Convenient, welcoming, people-friendly,” said John McAuliffe, who stayed there. “With sleeping, heat, power — resources that are taken for granted as part of the enjoyment of life.”

“Perfect. Very friendly and very generous and attentive — I’m talking about the staff,” said Susan Montanari, who lived at the shelter seven days, waiting for her home on Soundview Road to get electricity back. “They bend over backwards to please you.”

The town shelter at the Rec Center began having overnight guests Sunday night, Oct. 27, though Storm Sandy’s full force hit on Monday night.

“People come in because they get afraid. They have trees around their house,” said Peter Keeler, one of three Parks and Recreation Department workers who in the wake of last year’s debilitating storms got Red Cross shelter manager training.

The number of people seeking overnight accommodations from the shelter rose steadily, peaked with the continuing outages and the cold on Friday, then fell as people started getting power back.

The numbers were: Sunday, 5; Monday, 6; Tuesday, 14; Wednesday, 16; Thursday, 18; Friday, 29; Saturday, 16; Sunday 9; Monday 3.

Tuesday the center transitioned to a warming station.

Many more people used the shelter each day for showers, coffee, phone charging.

“It was a high of 2,200 to 2,400,” Mr. Keeler said.

“The door doesn’t stop. It just doesn’t close, people going in and out,” Mr. Keeler said last Thursday, Nov. 1.

Snacks were available to drops-ins, as well — juice, chips, cookies and coffee.

“We pretty much have the coffee pot going 18 hours a day,” Mr. Keeler said.

People staying at the shelter could also get meals.

“I’ve eaten here,” said Mr. McAuliffe. “Restaurants have donated food and the Red Cross and Rec Center make it available.”

Town Health Director Ed Briggs oversaw food operations at the shelter. “Delis, Stop & Shop, and Ancona’s,” he said. “And we also got food deliveries from the Red Cross.”

There was also a pet shelter at the Rec Center, run in cooperation with the town shelter for people, but organized and staffed by volunteers from The Connecticut State Animal Response Team.

Pet occupancy peaked at six: four dogs and two cats.

Mr. McAuliffe, owner of the cats, thought they did well in their side-by-side cages.

“They’re eating. They’re drinking water. They’re using the litter box,” he said. “These three things are all part of the normal behaviors that stressed-out cats don’t do.”

Pet owners could provide cages, but they didn’t have to. The shelter had cages.

“They have to make sure they have litter and food and proof of rabies shots,” Mr. Keeler said.

Owners of animals staying the pet shelter must stay in the human shelter. They’re expected to handle feeding their pets, giving them water, changing litter.

Mr. McAuliffe moved into the shelter Monday after his Hessian Drive home was hit by a tree. His two cats came two days later.

“The cats I brought Thursday,” he said. “At first with the house temperature in the 50s I was comfortable leaving the cats in the house — this is their comfort zone. They have full run of the house,” he said.

As one of the three shelter managers, Jane Byrnes was pleased with the way people were accommodated overnight. People with differing needs were put in various rooms as seemed sensible. There was a main room, and at least two others were used.

“I had a family come and stay in the one room, I had people who had problems sleeping in another room,”  Ms. Byrnes said.

“We had a family with a little kid, nine months old. They were there four nights. We had a family with three teenage sons.

“Coming and going, I had a mother with her teenage son — father was out of town. We put them in a different room. We tried to accommodate everyone,” she said.

“We had the space here,” she said. “We could sleep 50 without batting an eyelash.”

Mr. Briggs, the town health director, said the shelter was visited by a Redding’s First Selectwoman and health officer, and by two officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA.

“They were impressed. It was pretty organized,” he said “If anything needs to improve in our sheltering, it’s the feeding, and we’re in the process of addressing that.”

The town has about half the $35,000 or $40,000 it needs to install a kitchen that meets public food service standards, Mr. Briggs said.

The town has gotten a state grant for $19,200 to install a stove and a venting hood with a fire suppression system.

“And we’ve got to get additional funds for remaining items like refrigeration and a three-bay sink and hand sink for the kitchen,” he said. “That way we’ll be less dependent on getting delivery of food from outside sources.”

Ms. Brynes said staffing of the center had gone well.

The shelter managers — Ms. Byrnes Mr. Keeler, and Ron Lovolvo — had rotated stay-over duties, with help from John Tartaglia. Mr. Briggs, the health director, and Theresa Santoro, director of the Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association, joined them in staying at night.

“VNA every night — amazing, helped us out tremendously,” Ms Brynes said.

And, there were the volunteers, who were assigned over to the shelter by Dale Daniels, coordinator of volunteers at the Emergency Operations Center or “EOC” at Yanity gym.

“They staffed the desk from 6 in the morning to 10 at night, in four shifts,” Ms. Byrnes said. “They were making coffee, registering people.

“I had minimum three at front desk, another on coffee, all volunteers.”

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  • Maura

    Nice work, thanks for allowing pets!

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