Wendy Thomas - Halloween Snow Storm 2011

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Family Finds Comfort, Refuge at Red Cross Shelter

Merrimack resident Wendy Thomas has discovered the joy of shelter living – more like a fun resort than a last resort for her family.

By Carol Robidoux

November 2, 2011

On Wednesday afternoon the gymnasium of the Red Cross emergency shelter is mostly empty, except for a cluster of cots in the far corner. There, in the midst of it all, surrounded by kids and colorful creature comforts from home, sits Wendy Thomas.

"My two older kids are away at college. But the rest of us are here," said Thomas. "Welcome to Camp Thomas-Nozell."

She and husband, Marc Nozell, are enjoying the perks of being refugees from the weekend storm, along with their four younger kids -- Trevor, 16; Logan, 14; Addy, 13; and Emma, 11. There is free WiFi, plenty of electrical outlets, showers, three hot meals, and lots of space to read or watch movies via computer.

Emma said she likes having lots of other kids around.

"We went home and got some of our toys and stuffed animals to give the other kids," said Emma, who looks like she just enjoyed a hot shower.

"I was talking to someone on the other side of the gym who said they came because they were desperate. But you shouldn't have to be desperate; we came right away, because we'd been here before. It's actually just like camping," Thomas said.

A writer by vocation, Thomas iis prepared to tell the story she believes so many families in the Greater Nashua area need to know – for now, and for future reference: Life at the Red Cross Shelter shouldn't be a last resort; if you play your cards right – as many people do at the shelter – you can actually have some family fun.

Here, in her own words, is her perspective on finding shelter from the storm, and enjoying some quality family time at Nashua High School North/Red Cross emergency shelter:

By Wendy Thomas

Like so many others, we lost our power early Saturday night and by midday on Sunday it was too cold in the house to keep the four kids at home. We could have toughed it out but without a generator or a wood stove, and with one of the kids newly diagnosed with croup, we decided against it. Instead, we bundled them all up and headed over to the Merrimack Public library which was open, warm, and serving coffee. We stayed reading and playing video games until right before they closed at 4 p.m.

The problem was that our house was still dark and cold and we could tell from the damage on the streets that power was not going to be coming back anytime soon.

Time to think of a plan B.

By then we had heard that the Red Cross had opened a shelter at Nashua High School North, so we took the kids down there (dodging a few large limbs in the road along the way.) Our intention was to warm up, recharge the phones and then go back to the house. But with the temperatures dropping, and after some cajoling from the girls, we decided to spend the night.

We've been here ever since.

Our kids are not new to a shelter experience, we came to the Red Cross shelter during the ice storm a few years ago and my youngest were actually looking forward to being here again. A Red Cross shelter meant food and games with other kids, a chance to camp out indoors. It's an adventure.

My kids know what to expect, but it occurs to me that there might be some of you out there who don't know what a Red Cross Shelter offers.

First and foremost, it's a warm place to be where you can spend a few hours or a few nights. They have warm showers, outlets for electrical equipment and limited Internet (alas, because of the school, you will not be able to get onto Facebook, much to one of my son's dismay.) My husband Marc has been able to take conference calls and do his work here. I've been able to write for my blog.

Meals are served three times a day and there are snacks, fruit, and hot drinks available throughout the day. All food and services are at no cost.

If you choose to spend the night you will be assigned a camping cot and given a blanket. We found out the first night that that single blanket was not enough to keep up warm due to the ceiling fans in the gym so we went to the house the next day to get additional blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows. Cots are set up in the gym with families forming little “camps.” Everyone sleeps in the same room and during the evening there is always a Red Cross volunteer patrolling the gym. It takes a little getting used to sleeping arrangements like that, but quite honestly, it's no worse than when I slept in the same cabin with a bunch of teenage girls at Camp Mi-Ti-Na.

Showers are in the women and men's gym locker areas. If you need soap and shampoo they have kits to give you. Towels are also available.

During the day you are free to sign out and leave and many of us do. We've been going back to our house daily to check on the dog, rabbit, and chickens. My son Trevor, leaves to go to gymnastics and then returns late in the evening after the practice is over. If people need to come back, no problem, just let the front desk know you've returned.

Various people have come and gone. A small cheer goes up from all when we hear that someone's electricity has returned. Good for you, you've won a lottery.

As the couple whose cots were near ours and who left this afternoon to go back to their apartment said to me, “This was our first time ever at a shelter and it has been one of the most interesting experiences in my life. In the future, I wouldn't hesitate to come to a shelter. More people need to know about what is offered here and how it can be used. You should write about this, Wendy, and let them know.”

About the Shelter:

The Nashua Emergency Shelter, located off the Everett Turnpike, Exit 6, is set up at Nashua High School North, 10 Chuck Druding Drive. It will remain open indefinitely, according to shelter manager Sylvia Gale. It's pet friendly; just make sure you bring your own animal accommodations, including a crate, leash, food and feeding dishes, said Gale.

By the numbers: The shelter housed 91 residents overnight Monday and 69 on Tuesday, feeding 79 on Wednesday morning for breakfast, and 83 for lunch.

"There is a steady progression of departures as people find out their power is back on," said Gale. "That's the goal."

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