March 1, 2010

Regional shelter runs on volunteer power

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY – Colleen Monks spent the weekend making some amazing things happen – as shelter coordinator for the regional emergency shelter at Londonderry High School, Monks relied on her small army of trained volunteers to keep things running smoothly.
     They thought they were going to be assisting the Red Cross. Instead, they flew solo after a last minute change of plans from the state level. Over the course of three days, the volunteer team known as ALERT – A Londonderry Emergency Response Team – with help from local businesses, provided either food, shelter or hot showers for well over 100 people left without electricity.
     “Everything has gone smoothly,” said Monks, who was taking advantage of a Sunday afternoon lull to catch up with some of her volunteer staff. Londonderry Fire Capt. Jim Roger said the town's emergency shelter was a true success story.
     “All the credit goes to the ALERT team. We had a great partnership with police, fire and school officials,” Roger said.
     By early yesterday afternoon, most of the 19 storm refugees who'd spent Saturday night on shelter cots had eaten breakfast and headed back to their homes to see if power had been restored. Monks said there were 27 people who spent  Friday night, and 19 who came on Saturday. Last night a slow trickle of sleepover clients were returning. More than 100 meals were served to those who had stopped by just to warm up over the last three days, and at least 130 people came for a hot shower.
    “So many people said that shower made all the difference. It really revived them,” Monks said.
     Roger said after last year's ice storm, the school gymnasium was targeted as the ideal place for a regional shelter – it's spacious, sleeps 200, has basement storage space for cots and is autonomous of school building.
     One glitch in the process of organizing this particular effort was a lack of communication from the top down, Roger said.
     “We thought we had a partnership with the Red Cross, but based on some decision made at the state level, they gave all the Red Cross resources to the shelter in Manchester, at the Cashin Senior Center. That's a curve ball the Department of Health and Human Services didn't throw us until about 4:30 p.m. on Friday. If we hadn't been so well prepared, we wouldn't have been able to do what we did,” Roger said.
     Instead of waiting for Red Cross personnel to come get them set up, Monks and her 28 volunteers launched into action, relying mainly on previous Red Cross training.
     Roger said despite the poor communication, the ALERT team didn't miss a beat.
     “Our shelter already had a substantial number of people here before the Manchester shelter even opened its doors, people who were cold and wet and hungry – and we were ready for them,” Roger said. As a result of the communication lapse, some efforts were duplicated. It is something Londonderry officials will bring up when state and local officials review the storm relief efforts across the board, Roger said.
      Two local restaurants – Rig-A-Tony's in Derry and the Meat House in Bedford, donated food. Coffee was provided by Dunkin Donuts and the school district's food services coordinator handled all the food preparation.
     A large number of those seeking shelter were elderly, famlies with young children, or those who have no relatives living close by they could go to for relief, Monks said.
     “Some of the people who came this time were here during the ice storm, so it was a little like a mini reunion. We had the chance to reconnect here. We had a table of people playing cards all day Saturday, and so many people told us they felt comfortable coming back because of their experience during the ice storm. That means a lot to us,” Monks said

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