The weather that forced many homeless people into shelters over the weekend also created problems for volunteers looking to lend them a hand.
“Our emergency shelter was very crowded each night, but the interesting thing that happened this week is that some of our staff members couldn’t get in because of the weather,” said Mike Saccocio, executive director at the Schenectady City Mission. “Fortunately, we had some of our senior residents who really stepped up and stood in the gaps. They took over some leadership positions, covered some shifts, and we were able to get through the weekend. I really appreciate what our senior residents did. They helped us keep the place running.”
At Code Blue Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, executive director Cheryl Ann Murphy-Parant also had more visitors than usual -- and fewer helpers to serve them.
“The main challenge for us was our staffing, because many of them just couldn’t get here,” said Murphy-Parant. “We have wonderful volunteers who had travel problems. They were unable to make it in.”
Code Blue Saratoga is a program of Shelters of Saratoga that provides temporary, unrestricted shelter to homeless individuals during hazardous weather. Typically, Code Blue Saratoga doesn’t open up until 7 p.m. each night.
“We were open all day [Saturday] and [Sunday],” said Murphy-Parant, who was still at the center at 1 p.m. Monday. “We have 41 cots, and we were filled right up. We actually helped out covering for the soup kitchen. They closed, so they directed people over here and sent their food over. We covered for them, and we all got through the weekend.”
Monday afternoon, about a dozen men and women were inside the the largest Code Blue sleeping room.
Twenty-two green cots covered the floor, and blankets, pillows and gear bags covered the cots. Some people were sleeping; others were watching the movie "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" on a small television screen.
Randy Parks, 54, a Saratoga Springs resident who said he is homeless, was glad to be spending the day in a warm place.
"I'd probably be around in the cold somewhere," Parks said. "Maybe in the library, then go to Price Chopper, get something to eat, stay out of the cold. Just bounce around."
During Sunday's storm, Parks said he and fellow Code Blue visitors watched movies, played cards and ate lunch and dinner.
"They're good to us," he said. "It's great to have Code Blue here ... this is what you call the Code Blue family."
Monday's lunch was salad and minestrone soup. Dinner was coming from the menu at Druthers Brewing Co., one of several restaurants and organizations that take turns donating supper foods.
Angela LaRoe, 31, said she has been at the shelter for the past month.
"We're not victims. We're survivors," said LaRoe, who said she recently landed a job at a fast food restaurant in Wilton. "That's the big thing: You're here, and you're staying alive ... I'm very grateful for this place being here."
In Schenectady, Saccocio said the City Mission had more than 100 men, women and children visit their facility over the weekend.
“The other real challenge was that no one could leave during the day,” said Saccocio. “Normally, people come in, spend the night and then they’re gone in the morning. This weekend, no one could leave. We were all waiting out the storm together under one roof.”
The busy weekend created a need in both Schenectady and Saratoga Springs for more supplies.
“We’ve already given out 1,000 coats this year, and winter is going to be lasting a while longer,” said Saccocio. “So yeah, we really need more coats, hats and gloves for adults and children. We go through a lot, so we’re always looking for any kind of winter gear we can share with people.”
Murphy-Parant’s main priority is getting more paper products.
"We went through a lot this weekend, and we can always use paper plates, bowls, coffee cups, toilet paper, paper towels," she said.
More volunteers would also be helpful.
“On our volunteer list, we have over 200 names,” she said. “We can always use more, especially this year because a lot of people have been fighting the flu or whatever illness it is that seems to be hanging around. When people get sick, they’re down for two weeks, and that has really hit us hard this year.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected].