Maplewood Residents Find Shelter at DeHart Center

People displaced by Hurricane Sandy can find warmth -- literal and figurative -- at DeHart Community Center.


Roughly 30-40 people each day have been coming to the DeHart Community Center each day since Hurricane Sandy hit, for heat, light, food and to be with others in the same boat.

"We have had food donated by Village Trattoria and St. James Gate," said coordinator Michelle Wesley, who along with Susan Dijulio was busy in the shelter's kitchen warming up soup for the twenty or so people who were there.

The Township declared the center as an emergency shelter on Monday, after Hurricane Sandy slammed through the area and knocked out power to 90 percent of Maplewood homes. Since then, the township had provided the shelter with a larger generator to provide full electrical capacity. 

Other town employees who were assisting, working in 8-hour shifts so that someone would be there throughout the day and night, were OJ Mebude, William Washington, Ed Starzynski and Dave Ellisiant, along with Recreation Department Staff and the DPW.

"The DPW has been amazing," said Wesley. "Everyone is working overtime."

Some residents had been spending time at the shelter during the day, to get out of their dark, cold houses. Others, like Wanda Owens of Springfield Avenue, have been staying overnight. Owens, who was with her 14-year-old son, had been at DeHart since Sandy knocked a tree down and caused it to crash through her living room ceiling.

"It's good here, I like it," said Owens, who said she spent her time watching TV, listening to music and playing games. "It feels very family oriented." 

A group of teenagers sat around a table talking, and in the hallway, a group of friends and longtime Maplewoodians sat chatting about the storm and when life would return to normal.

Minalee Carson, of Hughes Street, a lifelong Maplewood resident ("I grew up on Mendel Avenue.") stayed at the shelter on Thursday night. 

"It's nice to sleep where it's warm," she said.

John and Rayna Clark of Newark Way said a neighbor's tree had taken down some of their fence, and they had no power. But they were more concerned about their daughter, Cathy, who was in Hoboken when Sandy hit.

"She had to walk across flooded streets with power lines down everywhere, in the dark," said Rayna. "She had no (working) phone and was in a shelter. She was traumatized." Cathy later found her way to her sister's apartment near Exchange Place, which had power and heat.

Florence Magyar, who lives at the corner of Rutgers and Lexington, said she had heat but no electricity. 

All temporary residents of the DeHart Shelter said they were happy to be somewhere with heat, food, and companionship.

The shelter at DeHart Community Center, 120 Burnett Avenue, will continue to be open as long as is needed.


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