PEPPERELL — Varnum Brook Elementary School’s cafeteria resembled an Army barracks last Friday night as refugees from their own powerless, cold homes placed blankets and personal items onto lightweight blue cots.
There was warmth, food and showers, a VCR for movie watching and a staff of volunteers on hand that included town nurse Ellen Castellano, former Board of Health member Holly Bradman, assistant town clerk Barbara Smith, VFW Ladies Auxiliary member Cathy Harris and former health board secretary Linda Pozersky.
“They’re working for George,” Castellano said of the volunteers. “Even if people come in just for showers or to get warm, it’s worth the effort. A lot of people don’t know about the shelter.”
Emergency Management Director George Ux has been planning for this sort of trouble for years.
Signs alerting residents in need to the presence of the shelter were placed around town. Those who came to the shelter were signed in by volunteers, offered food and showers and assigned a bed, if they wanted one.
Some folks had been at the Senior Center most of the day, as is part of Ux’s plan. There, Rose and Tom Landry cooked for them and their needs were provided by Castellano, Joan Ux and Council on Aging Director Sharon Mercurio. Varnum Brook School opened its doors at 5 p.m.
“At times like these, the true mettle comes out,” said Auxiliary Police Capt. David Querze, on hand to provide security. “George asked for that.”
Ux was in and out as he checked out the town.
“As I told the Finance Committee, you can’t cut anything out of emergency services,” Ux emphasized as he looked around.
“The Red Cross is tied up everywhere,” he said, noting that the room was not overflowing with residents. “I didn’t expect a big turnout because we’ve done that shelter-in-place training.”
Last fall, Ux complied and distributed a list of items all homeowners should put aside for use in emergencies, such as the recent ice storm.
Lynne Bouchard, Bert Campbell, Joe Thomas and Peg Rush sat around a lunch table talking.
“Pepperell Meadows is a mess,” Campbell reported.
“I live in the Maple Street park (Fairlane Mobile Home Park) and there were a lot of near misses,” Thomas said. “A branch pulled an air conditioner right out of a home.”
Across the room, Bailey and Janet Schulz were unpacking clothes for their grandson, Austin, age 4 months.
“More families with kids should know about this,” Janet said. “We tried to find a hotel room but they’re all booked. The nearest available is in Wakefield.”
Ux said he appreciates Pepperell belonging to National Grid because of its deep resources in times of trouble, particularly available repair vehicles. He said each year, he along with the fire and police chiefs and highway superintendent receive training in power restoration methods.
“During the big East Coast storm of a few years ago, most people came here,” he said. “A lot of them ate, warmed themselves up and then went home.”