Power was not restored to the Lester Senior Housing Community in Whippany until Tuesday morning. But for many residents of its 175 units, eight days of life without lights was little more than an inconvenience.
“You have to take what comes. Other people had it far worse. We had food and hot water. We made the best of it day by day, and they took very good care of us,” said Bea Freiheither. “I grew up in Long Branch, and I’ve lived through storms before, but never like this.”
Staff and management of the complex made things run as smoothly as possible. A generator was able to keep the lights on in common areas and the elevators running between the lobby and residents’ apartments.
In addition, space heaters turned two areas into “warming rooms” where residents could eat meals, watch movies, and gather in comfort.
“Planning was the key,” said administrator Alex Gross. “The fact that we had a plan and we had supplies was tremendous. We also kept residents and their families aware and kept people calm. Eight days without power is a long time.”
Neighbors and leaders of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ sent in soup, bagels, and cream cheese.
“It was not a tough scene for me,” said resident Pearl Blumberg. “I adjust very well. Why should anybody complain? We had food, we had activities, and I did everything I always did. I played Bingo and cards, and we had our discussion group.”
But other residents had a different experience.
“Up until Thursday night [Nov. 1] I was fine. It was no big deal,” said Lottie Mandel. “But by Friday I was miserable. I couldn’t sleep right. Then my toilet overflowed, and that did it.”
“Of course we were cold, but the hallways were warm,” said Mildred Feldstein, president of the tenants’ association of the Heller Independent Living Apartments (a second facility, the Judy & Josh Weston Assisted Living Residence, is next door). Feldstein emptied her refrigerator and read by flashlight. “I dressed warmly and went to bed. Sleeping was no problem, but the lack of showers was.”
The Lester campus, a partner agency of the Greater Metro-West federation, was the hardest hit among the Jewish Community Housing Corporation’s five senior residences.
While three lost no power at all, the 134 units at the Jewish Federation Plaza in West Orange had no electricity for less than a day.
But JCHC chief executive officer Harold Colton-Max believes there are lessons to be learned from Superstorm Sandy.
“Unfortunately I think we have to plan as if there will be a next time,” he said. “Once we have fully recovered from this we will take some time to evaluate what we can learn from this and where there are areas for improvement so we can be better prepared for what in the past were unusual occurrences.”