Cold weather and homes with no heat and power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy has caused a growing number of people to seek out warm places to eat, socialize and charge their batteries during the day and, in some cases, to sleep at night. The Monroe Senior Center is serving as the town's shelter and the sign in sheet at the front desk was several pages thick on Thursday night.
Barbara Yeager, director of both social services and the senior center, said it has been busier during the day with fewer choosing to stay overnight. People of all ages are welcome and are asked to bring their own bedding.
"We had five the first time, then 12 and seven last night," Yeager said of overnight visitors.
Though animal cages were brought in and pets are allowed in carriers, Yeager said the only pets that have stayed there were two lizards.
Arlene Townsend dropped off her son Benjamin’s pet gecko Lazlo on Monday morning, the first day that the center was opened as a shelter.
"We brought him to the center because we were afraid that we would lose power and we need power for his heat lamps," Townsend said in a telephone interview on the night of the storm.
On Thursday, Yeager said Lazlo went home.
"Now we have a new lizard, Maurice," Yeager said with a chuckle.
The shelter has been run by Yeager and her staff, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers and other residents who have helped out.
"Today not as many people were here during the day, but we had some families with kids," Yeager said. "High school kids came this afternoon because they thought we were selling pizza. We're holding our own on food. It's been busy. We have not been bored."
Allison Matula, a CERT volunteer, said, "The people I speak to are happy that there is a shelter they can go to — that their family can come and stay overnight if they want to and have hot food and a drink."
Yeager said, "Some people went out and brought back takeout. They'd really be happy if we had showers here. That would be perfect."
'A Very Plush Facility'
The senior center has wifi for Internet service, a flat-screen TV, and patrons seated around tables also spend their time playing games and socializing.
Among the 15 people there Thursday night, Doris David sat around one table and shared stories and laughs with Karen Nixon and her mother Clara.
"I'm calling Himes tomorrow to get him on the case with the utility companies," David said of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th).
Karen Nixon said she chose to come to the Monroe Senior Center, because it is only a mile-and-a-half from her home
"It's a beautiful facility," Nixon said. "I work in Manhattan for a global company and all my Swiss and British colleagues have seen all this and ask me, 'Karen, are you okay?' I tell them, 'I'm at a very plush facility at the Monroe Senior Center. The food, the heat and the charging stations ... I don't see how it could be any better.'"
During her stay, Nixon said she has had scrambled eggs and homemade pie and chili. "The people here are so nice," she said.
The Nixons planned to stay overnight, but David of Monroe and her adult daughter, Stacey Severn of Stratford were still on the fence.
"My mom lives on top of a big hill, so I knew she'd lose power," Severn said. "I had her come over on Sunday night. I lost power late Monday afternoon."
They went to David's house in Monroe to get some things on Thursday, then to the Monroe Senior Center to charge their lantern batteries, cell phones, computer and iPad.
"They had dinner and we started chatting with people," said Severn.
Severn went home for something and came back to find her mother was having a good time. "She'd made a lot of friends when I was gone," Severn said.
Severn's house is cold, so spending the night at the senior center was an option.
"I'm not sure what we're gonna do," she said, "but it's warm here and the people are friendly."