Westport's shelter from the cold a busy place


As temperatures in unheated houses plummeted into the 40s, 75 Reed Road became a Westport hot spot.

From the three "guests" who took advantage of the town's warming center at the Council on Aging Friday night, numbers rose fast.

"One night in the cold was clearly enough for many people," said Jen Wagner, the COA's acting director.

Starting at about 9 a.m. Saturday, "people really started coming." By weekend's end nearly 40 people had taken advantage of the opportunity.

There they were greeted by cots, fresh sheets, army blankets and warm food cooked up by Ms Wagner and staffers Andrea Lemos and Heather Wilson and served by COA volunteers. Even Ms. Wagner's two children, ages 10 and 12 lent a hand — they too were there for the duration.

The menu included ham, pasta, and soup, including chicken escarole from a recipe by Ms. Wagner's grandmother.

Ms. Wagner and crew were there around the clock starting Friday morning right through Monday.

Exhausting but rewarding, she said of the experience.

"You see people walking in bundled up in five layers of clothing — to be able to offer them a hot cup of coffee or an English muffin is a good feeling."

Some of those came in had clearly suffered during the ordeal.

"People were very anxious — from the cold, worrying about their houses, everything."

And the shelter catered to all ages — one couple came in with a baby and stayed the night.

Ms. Wagner credited Fire Department EMTs, led by Lt. Brian Beaulieau who also serves as the town's deputy emergency management director.

"They were amazing, they did it all," including setting out in search of people on behalf of worried relatives.

Mr. Beaulieau said that these non-911 situations entailed knocking on doors and, in some cases, trying to persuade reluctant people out of cold houses and into the warmth of a shelter.

"We can't force people to leave — there are some very stubborn people in this town." He said he understands the reluctance to leave familiar surroundings for a shelter, "but you aren't doing yourself any favor staying in a cold house."

He said that "one gentleman in particular took a lot of convincing," saying that if things got worse, he might go to stay with his son.

"I said, 'Why don't you come with us. If you don't like it there (at the COA), I'll drive you to your son's house.' He wound up staying (at the COA) two nights."

Mr. Beaulieau also served as the shelter's procurer of provisions. Having worked part-time at Lees Market, he was able to call and ask the store to set aside some staples.


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So proud of you, Jen Conlon Wagner, Lexi and Brett, and all the others for helping people out during the storm. I heard some people say that the inside of their homes, without heat because of the lines being down, was at 31 F. That's below freezing -- too cold for the elderly and very young children!! It's good to know that there are people like you out there doing what is necessary for those in need during extreme emergencies like this. I know everyone must have enjoyed Gramma Z's Italian wedding soup! Keep being a blessing to others and teaching your children to do the same. ♥ ♥ ♥

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