UMass offers food and shelter after storm

By DailyCollegian.com Staff

As areas in Amherst regain power and students resume classes, the University of Massachusetts continues to give support to off-campus students without power. Many students were able to access free food and water, shower on-campus, recharge electronics and seek warm shelter within the University walls. According to a Western Massachusetts Electric Company official, power should be returning to all of Amherst by tonight.

Yesterday, a number of students without meal plans filed into the Dining Commons and received free meals.

Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises, said the dining hall staff has been busy serving over 75,000 students and guests at the Dining Commons since Sunday.

“Offering free meals to students that are without a meal plan has been a great way to share our resources with those experiencing hardships during the aftermath of the weekend’s power outage; in addition it helps to build community, while providing comfort,” said Toong.

“The off-campus students that I talked to tonight overwhelmingly appreciate this kindness and are very grateful to join other students to dine at the DCs,” he continued.

According to Toong, as of 8 p.m. last night, the Dining Commons had served more than 3,500 “non-meal plan” students. Toong also said that he and his staff anticipate serving another 1,000 of these students before the night’s end.

Some students eating at the Dining Commons last night shared their perspectives about the free food.

“I think it’s awesome. I live off campus, so I don’t get this all the time,” said Vanessa Pini, a junior communication major. “I’ll definitely be coming every day until Friday.”

“I think it’s really dumb that we had classes when there were no gas stations open or bus lines running, and I just think they handled that really poorly,” said Pini, who lives on North Pleasant Street and was eating at Worcester Dining Commons last night. “But I think [the free meal] is a good effort.”

John Welch, a junior accounting major who lives in Sunderland, was eating at Worcester as well.

“It’s a good thing for them to do because there are definitely a lot of people who need it,” said John Welch, a junior accounting major living in Sunderland, who was also eating in the Worcester DC. “It’s great to have free food now, but it would have been great to have back when the power first went out. This was a great idea but it came after most people needed it.”

James Heilman, a political science grad student, was utilizing the free meals offered at Franklin. He said he was eating at the Dining Halls because he was still out of power and had run out of “dry food.”

“It’s actually been really helpful. This is the second meal I’ve had here,” he said. “I don’t have power yet. I’m out of dry food. All my fridge food is now spoiled or on its way to being spoiled. So, I really appreciate this.”

“I’ve really appreciated the response,” he continued. “It’s great if you’re an undergrad living off campus and don’t have power it’s great that there’s somewhere you can go on campus.”

Although some residents in the area are still left without power, most of Amherst’s apartment complexes housing a majority of the off-campus population have regained power as of last night.

As of 11 p.m. yesterday, Brandywine Apartments, Townehouse of Amherst Condominiums, Puffton Village, Mill Valley Estates, Alpine Commons Apartments, Crestview Apartments, Aspen Chase Apartments, Rolling Green Apartments, Presidential Apartments, Colonial Village Apartments, The Boulders and Hobart Lane have each regained power as of last night.

Western Massachusetts Electric Company Spokeswoman Sandra Ahearn projected that all of Amherst would restore power by tonight, and she said most probably would before that. She said 2,900 customers, 29 percent of the town, still remain without power as of 8 p.m. yesterday. She said Amherst is ahead of Shutesbury, Leverett and Pelham in regaining electricity.

Clearing debris from the roads is a priority, according to Ahearn. She said there are many crews throughout Amherst working to clear the damage from fallen trees, giving the Amherst area priority over surrounding towns.

Several off-campus students as well as residents in the surrounding area have utilized UMass as a safe haven away from powerless homes, particularly the Campus Center, Student Union, W.E.B. Du Bois Library and the Off Campus Student Center located on the lower level of the Student Union.

Margaret Sullivan, a UMass junior and representative from the Off Campus Student Center said, “In the office we’ve tried to get the attention of all off-campus students, and any students on campus who are having problems with Internet or power. We had a pizza party yesterday.”

“The Off Campus Student Center allows students to not only charge phone and do homework, but socialize where it’s warm and there’s light and board games,” continued Sullivan.

Sullivan said they’ve seen more than twice the usual amount of students come into the office since the storm.

“It’s definitely an inconvenience [not having electricity]; we were quoted to get power back Friday or Saturday,” said Kristina Kane, a junior English major who had set herself up in the Cape Cod Lounge last night. “I’ve been spending a lot of time in the student union, in the library. The school’s doing a good job keeping everything open with the showers and free food.”

“I really like what the school has done, especially with the meals today,” said Sangeen Hakam, a senior economics major, as he sat in the Student Union. “Having the Student Union open 24 hours has helped to get work done with the Internet. Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the services the school has provided.”

Cheryl Burke, an Amherst resident, was using the Campus Center last night to escape the cold temperatures from the power outage.

“My husband works at UMass, so I’m not usually here, but it’s really nice to have the Campus Center available,” said Burke. “It’d be nice to have heat, water and power, too. The people are friendly and the facilities are great; it’s been a lifesaver.”

UMass junior Olivia Forshtay and her boyfriend Ian Tricknell have waited out the cold nights since the storm in the Campus Center basement. The couple brought a power strip from home to simultaneously charge both their cell phones and laptops. They watched television shows online together on one of the basement’s couches.

“It’s at least 45 degrees [in our home],” said Tricknell. The couple lives on Fairfield Street off of North Pleasant Street, and they have been without power since Saturday evening.

“We have our animals, a dog, that we’ve been snuggling with at night,” said Forshtay.

Forshtay, 20, who is an animal science major, also has worked at the French Meadow kiosk since its opening over two years ago.

For the past two nights, she’s worked overnights at the kiosk serving hungry students left without power in the wake of the storm. She said that as the power kicks back in in Amherst, the Campus Center is seeing less traffic. Last night, according to Forshtay, French Meadow cashed $120, compared to $400 the previous night.

“There are way less people down here,” said Tricknell of the Campus Center basement. “Before people were sitting on the floors near every outlet.”

Students without hot water can also take showers in the Mullins Center from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Mullins Center staff and UMass Amherst Medical Reserve Corps will provide assistance to students there.

Ian Piazza, a junior social thought and political economy major, who lives on Old Bay Road in Belchertown, has been utilizing the showers offered at the Recreation Center because his home remains without power.

“It hasn’t been too inconvenient for me coming to the rec. center to shower because I just make it coincide with my workouts,” he said.

“Showers at the gym are disgusting,” he added. “They are all grimy, and they really should be like dorm showers and should be a lot cleaner.”

Allie Demastrie, a junior history major from Logtown Road, lives with four others who have used the Recreation Center to shower until their power is restored.

Demastrie said she has not used the Rec. Center showers yet, but plans on using them in the morning.

“It’s absurd that they did not call off school for the week,” said Demastrie. She said she went home over the weekend to stay warm, and said she did not enjoy returning to her apartment because its temperature has hit below 50 degrees.

Alyssa Creamer can be reached at [email protected]. Nancy Pierce can be reached at [email protected].

Kate Evans, Steve Levine, Steffi Porter, Taylor Snow, Rachel Tumin and Lauren Vincent contributed to this report.