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"Chappaqua Moms" Network: A Lifeline in Hurricane's Aftermath

Like secret agents on a stake-out, community parents tracked utility crews around New Castle during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

I just came back from my daughter's elementary school book fair. All the adults I talked to seemed to still be recovering from Hurricane Sandy's aftermath. I discovered even the kids weren't yet over it, when I saw a little yellow sticky that said "Last Copy" on what was once a pile of the book named "Hurricanes". Hurricane Sandy wiped out so many huge trees and utility poles that it took just shy of two weeks to have my power restored. And I have to say, it nearly broke me. I know others lost their entire homes, or even loved ones, in the storm so I really can’t complain – but I’m going to be a little self-indulgent for a moment.

We have a small generator but due to the electrical configuration of our house, we weren’t able to just hook it up to our electric box. So, we had to pick and choose small things to plug directly into it. We could only plug in one small space heater so we had to pick which room we were going to live out of. Our master bedroom is on the first floor so we chose that one. All five of us and a fish, one bedroom, wall-to-wall mattresses, for thirteen days. We slept in that room. We ate in that room. We played in that room. We did crafts in that room. We got ready for school in that room. The kids watched mommy slowly unravel in that room.

It wasn’t even so much the inconvenience of it all, it was more the feeling of helplessness and of not knowing. The way our electric company handled things was pitiful to say the least. There was no communication. No matter how many phone calls you made, it made no difference. And the hard part for me is I don’t like when I’m not in control and I have no plan. If at the outset, someone told me that I was going to be without power for two weeks, then I could have had a plan. Maybe we would have left the house and gone to stay with someone. But from the moment the power went out, each day we questioned what the next would bring. Maybe we’ll get power back tomorrow, maybe mid-week, maybe by the weekend, maybe by the following Wednesday at eleven o’clock at night like the automated ConEd service said, or maybe not until the end of the second weekend. There’s no way to plan for that or even to wrap your head around it.

Between the hours of midnight and six in the morning, we would turn the generator off in order to conserve gas. There really wasn’t much sleeping on my part. I was on constant blanket patrol – making sure the kids didn’t kick the blankets off and freeze, while at the same time not have them burrow too far underneath them. And then if anyone woke up with a need to use the bathroom, I had to be ready with a flashlight, as well as to warm up the toilet seat with layers of paper because it was freezing in there and my eldest son has an aversion to things that feel too cold.  A few nights into it, my son got sick and I had to wake up my husband to hurry and turn the generator back on because I couldn’t see anything and I needed to take care of him. So, to say the least, I was on edge, on edge for thirteen days.

There were two highlights for me though. One, was how, once again, my children showed me how resilient they are. As mommy was becoming a shivering mess, shaking my head, and mumbling to myself, my kids were having a great time with their camp-out/sleep over, where they didn’t have to take showers, and got to eat take-out everyday.  The other highlight was a local community parent networking site on Facebook called "Chappaqua Moms". It really was what saved me from going over the edge. Where no real information was forthcoming from our electrical company or our town officials, this network of parents was like being part of a stake-out. “Con-Ed crew spotted on Hardscrabble.”  ”Copy that. In pursuit of crew.” “Hey, Momma Smith, this is Papa Jones what’s the 10-20 on the crew up on 133?” “No sight of them. Think they saw the mess and cleared straight out. We’re keeping the area under surveillance, though.” “You have the donuts, just in case?” “Roger that, donuts and hot coffee. We’ll deliver the package as soon as we see them set up shop.” “Wait a second. Crew in site. I repeat, crew in site. All moms in vicinity please ready yourselves. We need a round-the-clock onslaught of food delivery. Coffee and donuts are covered, but we’ll need a delivery of pizza at noon, and cookies and hot cider to follow. We can not let this crew get away. This is go-time people.  Keep that food coming.”

Somehow, what a town, whose residents include New York’s Governor Cuomo and former President of the United States Bill Clinton, couldn’t do for me, a band of rogue parents did. This group of moms and dads made me feel empowered. They were literally my lifeline. I knew which streets were still without power. I knew where the crews were working. I knew what gas stations still had gas. I knew what delis were open where I could find food for my kids to eat. I knew which laundromats to go to. I knew that I needed to tell my husband to add oil to the generator. I knew what roads were impassable. And most importantly, I knew I wasn’t in this myself and I knew I wasn’t the only one losing my mind and I knew I wasn’t powerless – I was part of a rabble-rousing group, who tried to break into meetings at the town hall, and made phone calls to the CEO of ConEdison and our State’s Representatives. There was even talk about taking the funds raised for the high school turf field, and suggesting to use it to bury our electric wires so that we didn’t go through this Armageddon again – yes, turf field funds – I know, kick-ass stuff.

And I would be remiss not to mention the out-of-state Pike electrical crews. The one that worked on our road was from Central Florida. They were sleeping in a semi-trailer, as the hotel ConEd wanted to put them up in was two hours away. They were also ill-prepared for our snowstorm and many didn’t have gloves or boots, so neighbors supplemented their supplies where they could. They had traveled many hours to get here to help out, missing out on Halloween with their own kids. And though it must have gotten old after awhile, they were always very appreciative when they received yet another box of donuts from residents.

So, now that my lights are finally back on, I still feel like I’m walking around in shock. What just happened? The town is still a mess with huge trees down all over people’s properties, including my own. My house is a wreck, which I’m still confused about since we only spent time in one room but with freezers to clean out and dishes in the sink and piles of batteries and random blankets and flashlights and the toy box that got dumped out, and then of course the boxes and closets that were strewn about in search of winter clothes I wasn’t prepared for because of the Nor’easter that came through, there’s still a lot of clean up to do. But with Thanksgiving on the horizon, for once I’ll have room in the refrigerator for all the food for the feast since we had to throw everything else out, and I will certainly be ready with my list of what I’m thankful for: for lights, for heat, for hot water, for a sound roof over my head, for the safety and love of my family, for every neighbor that offered me a hot shower (did my hair look that bad?), and for a community, which I’m still relatively new to, that helped me in more ways than they can imagine. And as I drove around the town today doing my usual errands, I saw one lonely orange utility safety cone by the side of the road, with “Pike” written on the side in black marker. It must have been left behind. Those out-of-state workers may be gone but they will never be forgotten. I had half a mind to pick it up and use it as the center piece for my Thanksgiving table this year with a candle stuck in it – it would be very fitting, and it doesn’t hurt that it would go with the color scheme of my holiday decor.

- Posted on mommysoffice.com. 

http://mommysoffice.com/2012/11/13/i-see-the-light-the-aftermath-of-hurricane-sandy/

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Tom Auchterlonie (Editor) November 13, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Hi Jackie, thank you for blogging. I understand that the Chappaqua Moms group has been an important platform for residents without power, both to share experiences and to organize. Do you see the group as taking on a similar purpose in future major events that impact town?
Jackie McCarthy November 13, 2012 at 11:59 PM
This is a group made up of parents of students in the Chappaqua school or pre-school system, and also includes some of our local merchants. I was very impressed with how pro-active this group was. It has inspired people to ban together to want to help make changes in the way communication is disseminated in this town, especially with all the technology that is available today, as exemplified by the plethora of timely information we received from Superintendent Lyn McKay during this crisis. I believe this group was formed to help one another share local opinions and information but during times of critical need it has shown itself to be a powerful vehicle for pulling community members together and organizing action. With all the help residents received from each other through this forum during the Hurricane aftermath, I am sure if there is another major event "Chappaqua Moms" will be one of the first sites we will all turn to again.
leslie pierson November 14, 2012 at 12:09 PM
My kids are out of school but i am still a Chappaqua Mom. Sign me up for this amazing group. i am so impressed with what you all did to try to get our lives back to normal. I, too, was out of power for twelve days and had essentially no information from the town or the police in spite of making many phone calls of my own. My hat is off to this group for what they managed to do to get information and communicate among themselves. Something that was completely lacking from our leaders.
Jackie McCarthy November 14, 2012 at 12:27 PM
A Chappaqua mom named Julie Scott started this group. If you sign into Facebook and do a search on "Chappaqua Moms" the group will come up. I believe the requirements are only that you must be a New Castle resident to be approved.
Dr.SusanRubin November 14, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Hey Leslie, best thing to do before the next storm is get out and meet all of the neighbors on your street. Compile a list of names, emails and phone #s and distribute it to everyone. That's pretty much what we had going on Pond Hill Road: a hyper local network that kept everyone on the blog up to speed w/ conditions. Its step #1 in building resilience.

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