Almost two weeks after opening as a shelter to serve those fleeing Sandy in the northern Somerset County area, the shelter housed in the lower gymnasium at Bernards High School in serving an expanded region for those for whom the hurricane's impact is more than a memory.
The American Red Cross, along with volunteers and emergency workers from Bernardsville, has been running the shelter since Oct. 29 as a place to go either during the day or overnight for those who need shelter, showers or found themselves stranded by the storm and its aftermath.
The shelter's operations manager, Janet Murnick, said on Friday that the Bernardsville facility was gearing up to accept some of those staying with the Sisters of Christian Charity in Mendham, which was planning to close its facility.
She said the shelter remains committed to staying open as long as needed, and noted 31 people had stayed overnight on Thursday. The shelter also is open to day visitors, including those without power who may want to schedule a shower.
Some residents from towns in western Union County, such as Berkeley Heights, had already been directed to Bernards High, and some families from Manville and Bound Brook had been through, or remained, she said. Earlier Sandy shelters in Manville and at Raritan Valley Community College have already closed.
But with thousands of Somerset Hills homes still without power as the weekend arrived, Murnick said she was seeing more people from those towns — Bernardsville, Basking Ridge, Bedminster, Peapack-Gladstone and Far Hills.
On the really cold nights last week, "Some stayed and got warm and then went home at 11 p.m.," Murnick said.
The shelter has housed a parade of people who showed up for different reasons — to shower or seek a meal — and others who have been in a special section, staffed by a nurse, for those with medical needs. That includes a person with a Seeing Eye dog who's been there since the beginning, Murnick said.
She said a businessman from the Virgin Islands, grounded by Sandy, had finally been picked up by a car to take him to the airport on Friday morning.
Some have arrived upset or with other needs, and Murnick said the shelter now has a cadre of professionals to attend to their needs, including a chaplain and social services employees.
Murnick said that some people may not realize that they don't even need to check in to pick up bottled water or self-heating dinners at the facility.
The shelter had put out a call for additional showers besides those in the school gym, and Murnick said a portable unit had arrived — although she wasn't sure of its origin.
Murnick, who said she herself is living without power, said that she has been spending 16 hour days at the shelter, along with Bernardsville Recreation Director Cheryl Ferrante and a group of dedicated local volunteers.
She said that the Red Cross was stepping in to offer more back-up personnel and through the next week.
The shelter remained as a separate area in the school on Friday, when Bernards High opened to students again.
Saturday night football game to raise money for Red Cross
The Bernards High Mountaineers football team is playing a rescheduled away game at 6 p.m. on Saturday against New Providence, and Bernards Head Coach Jon Simoneau said that the teams are donating the proceeds from the game to the American Red Cross. The crowd also is asked to wear red to the game, he said.
Team members have been volunteering at the shelter
Simoneau said that team members have been volunteering at the shelter after practices during the last week.