Shelters open on coast as New England recovers from blizzard

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“ Honestly from the tears of compassion of those receiving them, to the smiles of our volunteers distributing them, this was truly a wonderful experience.”

By the evening of Feb. 9, Sharese Perry had been stuck in her Wareham home without power for a day and a half. Her children were wrapped up in blankets, their breath freezing as it came out of their mouths, and Perry was in despair.

With her cell phone dying, she called police and was first evacuated to a crowded center, where she spent many hours with her children on mats. She made her way to the Red Cross shelter at Durfee High School in Fall River early Sunday morning.

“Since we got here they’ve been so nice to us and the kids,” she said. “They gave us food as soon as we came in last night at 1 [a.m.], so many pizzas, juice, chips, blankets, beds.” Talking about being able to put her children on Red Cross cots and not on the floor brought tears to her eyes.

“The Red Cross has been great -- wonderful,” she said. “We’re so blessed to have you guys helping us.”

The blizzard was a challenge for the Red Cross because it hit hard in the areas pounded by the upper reaches of Superstorm Sandy. It also meant volunteers themselves had to dig their way out of three feet of snow before rushing out to help others.

At the height of the storm, when a state of emergency was called by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a fire broke out in a Wilmington apartment building. With a foot of snow already piled on some roads, it was unsafe for volunteers to report to the scene – a virtual casework environment was created, with those affected being brought by fire truck to emergency shelter – in this case a hotel with warm meals.

Eventually, 14 shelters were opened throughout the South Shore and Cape Cod for those pushed out of their homes by power outages caused by the snow. Red Cross volunteers provided 1918 shelter stays and more than 30,000 meals and snacks to people affected by the storm.

As the power came on, teams from the Red Cross began to target the worst-hit neighborhoods. In Scituate, waves punched 4-foot-wide holes in the sides of some homes when the tidal surge pushed boulders ashore. Cleanup kits with items like gloves, detergents and mops were distributed by volunteers carrying Red Cross buckets. Each team had a Disaster Mental Health volunteer checking in on residents to make sure they were starting their recovery.

As the disaster response started to wrap up in Eastern Massachusetts, the Red Cross heard from another affected community: the Wampanoag tribe of Mashpee. The tribe was without power for about a week, and hundreds of residents lost all of their groceries.

Wanting to make sure everyone gets fed, the Red Cross Food Pantry filled 180 banana boxes with provisions to feed a family of three for 3-5 days: sweet potatoes, a 5 pound bag of white potatoes, a 3 pound bag of carrots, beets, apples, turnips, onions, dry goods (like cereal, pasta and tomato sauce, dried fruit, canned tuna and beans) and best of all... a 10 pound bag of chicken quarters.

“Those food packages not only filled our Tribal Members’ stomachs, but more importantly their hearts,” wrote tribal emergency managers Robbie Hendricks and Brenda Richerson.“ Honestly from the tears of compassion of those receiving them, to the smiles of our volunteers distributing them, this was truly a wonderful experience.”