Even though there have been lots of variables and treacherous moments these last two days, one thing is for sure: the City of Batavia community has been rich in response to the needs of strangers.
All day long has been filled with gifts from a “friends and family” initiative to ensure that motorists stranded at one of the 11 warming shelters, and the emergency responders that rescued them, are warm and fed, City Manager Rachael Tabelski said. She, city and county staff, including Manager Matt Landers had been manning the effort all day at the city fire station.
“There have been a lot of family donations. Matt got a ton of deliveries,” Tabelski said Saturday evening. “He’s going to be getting a ton of pots and pans back.”
Landers had contacted about 20 friends seeking food for the more than 550 visitors that got stuck after being diverted from the Thruway Friday. Motorists have been from near and far — Lockport, Canada, Connecticut, Los Angeles, Maryland, to name a few — and found themselves at a fire hall, church or hotel lobby seeking refuge from the bitter cold.
“I’m doing what I can to help; I’m not out there rescuing people, so I’m doing what I can,” he said. “We were getting low on food at the shelters and for responders. I texted 20 friends and colleagues, and they texted others.”
He drove to about 15 homes to pick up their offerings — from a ham and tray of potatoes from County Legislator Marianne Clattenburg and eight to 10 trays of food from Settler’s Restaurant to Mike Ficarella’s chili, food items from City Council President Eugene Jankowski, to tuna casserole, ziti and sweet treats from city schools board member Alice Benedict.
Other donations from at least two dozen individuals, groups, schools and churches also included blankets, cots, soups, mac ’n cheese, bottled water, and the countless deliveries from emergency responders.
A shelter opened at Grace Baptist in Batavia, the only one in the city, has been “doing a very good job” with providing care, Tabelski said. And they have room in case anyone has lost power or is stranded in the city, she said.
“Thank God Grace Baptist Church took my family and others who were stranded in,” motorist Nick Bankovic texted to friend Bill Hume. “Batavia’s Original pizza donated pies here for everyone, and a bunch of locals have been dropping off food ’n drinks. This definitely got travelers in high spirited moods. I think this also brought excellent exposure to the entire city of Batavia to all these travelers.”
As for city streets, the second surge predicted to hit earlier Saturday kept getting pushed back, Tabelski said, but staff was ready. The travel ban was to keep city streets cleared for snowplowing and emergency vehicles, she said, but it was most likely confusing for another part of the county.
“Half of our county looks great,” she had said in late afternoon. “It isn’t bad now, but could get bad really quickly. We can plow more and keep it cleared Our goal is to keep the city functional and operational.”
Several tractor trailers that had been moved off the Thruway were parked alongside local roads, and the plan was to get them into the Wal-mart parking lot, she said.
“We’re really just support right now, and trying to get food out,” she said. “The travel ban is to keep those 18-wheelers off city streets, and to keep the roads open and clear.”
City hotels booked up to capacity Friday, though stragglers that got caught in the storm were given shelter in hotel lobbies. Jolene emailed The Batavian to praise the job being done by Quality Inn staff, Rich Kress in particular.
“I just wanted to write to tell you I think there are some pretty amazing people that need to be recognized for their actions during the storm. We were completely booked early on in the day yesterday, but the staff and residents here are amazing for the most part. They stayed up the entire night letting people come in off the streets,” she said. “They refused no one. Every corner of our lobby was full. They made coffee all night long and put out food that was meant for the free breakfast for residents. They gave people pillows and blankets and even brought out cribs for infants. None of them had to do any of that.”
Jolene didn’t respond to an email for further details, but her sentiment was well received.
“I think it’s amazing and I feel that they should be recognized. (Rich Kress) stayed up the entire night running around collecting furniture from other floors and rooms for people to be able to rest in the lobby. He is actually still down there now with the displaced people,” she said. “It’s not often you come across people like these guys. They really do give a damn.”
Weather and travel bans/advisories will be posted as received. If more food is needed this weekend, that appeal will also be posted on The Batavian.
Meanwhile, Landers will be trying to track down the owners of soup pots, pans and slow-cookers.
Top Photo: City Manager Rachael Tabelski, right, and city staff work to take in and distribute food donations Saturday at the city fire station; emergency responders occasionally get a break to nourish themselves; bags of goods went out to warming shelters; the community was generous with donations of food items.
Photos submitted by City of Batavia.