Shelter helps residents find light in dark situation

By Lauri Voter - Staff Writer
Union - posted Tue., Nov. 8, 2011
A Union family spends time together at the emergency shelter in town hall after the winter storm.
A Union family spends time together at the emergency shelter in town hall after the winter storm.

If you have to spend time in an emergency shelter, it doesn’t hurt to be from a small town. In Union, Connecticut’s least-populated town, town officials opened an emergency shelter approximately 24 hours after the Oct. 29 winter storm surged through Connecticut leaving thousands of residents without power and heat for days on end. In Union, many residents made effective use of their emergency shelter.

When Union built its new town hall in 1999, the lower level of the building was designed to function as the town’s designated emergency shelter. Here, in cases of emergency, residents can take showers, obtain water and a meal ready to eat (MRE), be warm and have light. Cots and blankets were available to those who chose to stay overnight. A television, DVD player and movies were available, and books could be borrowed.

“It's the first time in 12 years, the shelter was used. It performed almost flawlessly,” said Union First Selectman Albert L. “Andy” Goodhall, Jr., who also said that, as a result of the experience, he plans to implement some current technology upgrades that were not available when the facility was first built.

Many people chose to make the best of a bad situation by passing time in the shelter. Union resident Sharon Kneeland spent her days at the shelter preparing a scrapbook in memory of her deceased dog, Rookie. Kneeland said she also cooked and ate at the shelter, and charged her cell phone. “It’s warm and there’s light,” said Kneeland.

Union resident Jane Seiffert and members of her family, including her daughters and infant granddaughters, chose to think of their time at the shelter as “undistracted family time.”

“It hasn’t been a bad experience,” said Seiffert. “What they’ve done here for all of us is fantastic.”

In addition to the basic services, Seiffert appreciated being able to wash baby bottles for two infants in the shelter’s kitchen. Those with day jobs spent time at the shelter in the evenings, socializing with neighbors and friends, reading, getting a meal, watching the news and seizing the opportunity to take a shower.

The shelter opened on Oct. 30, under generator power. Members of the Union Volunteer Fire Department traveled door to door on Oct. 31 to spread the word to residents about the shelter. The shelter was run via generator for a week, until finally on Nov. 5, electricity was restored to the facility.

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