SHIRLEY -- When Hurricane Sandy struck the area last week, the Senior Center lost power, phone and Internet service for two days. But the center stayed open and "bustling," Council on Aging Director John Oelfke said.
And the Halloween party went on as planned.
"While not as dire a situation as the homes that were without power, the loss of the senior center does impact a number of people and, thankfully, for the most part, we were functioning," he said, thanks to a generator, a building wired for its use and a number of volunteers.
Donations and volunteer labor, in fact, are responsible for all three perks -- the generator, the wiring and the building, a beautifully transformed old school house on Parker Road.
Oelfke said a debt of gratitude is due to Ray Gagnon for helping the Senior Center weather the storm. A retired electrician and "our generator man," Gagnon got the generator going and "helped us figure out" what could safely be hooked up and what could not.
Gagnon came early to start up the generator, stayed late to close it down and was there most times when switches popped "because we overloaded some circuit," Oelfke said.
The Halloween party team also deserves special thanks, he said.
Neither "flaky power" nor "weird weather" spooked this group. Shirley Deyo, Marcia Sullivan, Sally Hamel and Joyce Patton threw "a heck of a party," Oelfke said. "We had more than 40 seniors attend in all kinds of costumes.
With generator juice and plenty of holiday goodies and games, partygoers had a fine time, even learned to Zumba," he said. The party was a success despite the weather. "Thank you, ladies."
Oelfke credited "a number of other volunteers" who chipped in to make light work of two days that might otherwise been spent in darkness. "People came and went, enjoyed the coffee and the goodies, played cards, dominos and just enjoyed the day," he said.
"It is all our volunteers who make your senior center work," Oelfke concluded. "Stop by and see what's happening."
For the most part, it was business as usual for COA services, storm and all, but there were some outages.
Meals on Wheels were delivered for Tuesday and Wednesday, but not Monday. "The weather was just too bad," Oelfke explained.
Senior van service was interrupted, but that was expected. The service was off-line Monday and Tuesday, when the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District closed schools due to weather.
According to current COA policy in Shirley, van service shuts down when the local schools do. "The assumption being that the roads are not safe for our drivers to drive and the seniors to ride," Oelfke said.
The senior center's phone service was off-line, too.
Incoming calls went to voice mail, but "we could not call out or receive calls you made to us," Oelfke said. Although he and his helpers tried to access messages from another phone, it's likely that some calls were missed, he said, resulting in some seniors not getting rides to doctor's appointments.
Oelfke apologized for the inconvenience and said he plans to look into procedural upgrades to avoid such problems in the future.
"We will strive to make the changes needed to continue making your senior center the place where you can come and feel at home and to provide all the services you need to stay healthy and happy," he said.