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Library after the storm: Comfort, community and casseroles

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It’s such a special community quality—one of the things that Darien prides itself on.

As the temperatures dropped and many people in town lived without power, the library became a display of Darien’s warmth.

The number of people that came through the library doors was a record.  “We had 3,366 come through the door [Thursday],” said Gretchen Casserotti, assistant director for public services. The staff made extra resources available, including chairs and outlets, but the programming and extended hours were what brought people in from the cold.

Darien Library offered many daily programs for both children and adults including movie screenings, football games, meditation sessions and a town potluck. The potluck on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 3, brought in residents, utility workers and police officers.

The staff decided to announce a community dinner after hearing from people with power who did not know how to help. “Those who don’t have power after [several] days probably get sick of eating Chipotle,” Casserotti said.

There were hundreds of people in the library’s auditorium for the potluck, according to Casserotti. There was ample food for all of the hungry visitors and leftovers were packed up and brought to a shelter. “While we were happy it was a success,” she said, “it is a shame we had to do it with so many without power and heat.”

“Why we thought this would be an interesting idea is that we heard so many stories of everyone who’s been coming through this week—stories about togetherness,” she said. “It’s such a special community quality—one of the things that Darien prides itself on.”

All of the visitors put a strain on the library’s wi-fi so they had to expand access. “Our IP had more than 5000 people that had logged on that day,” Casserotti said. They had to add more IP addresses, which are given to every computer that connects to the library’s internet. Regular transactions (books and DVDs) also hit a record with 12000 over four days compared to 30000 in the entirety of September.

Jackie Dillon and her 2-year-old daughter Shannon were at the library on Friday afternoon. They live near Middlesex and were without power at the time. Dillon spent time reading a book with her daughter, who was eager to go back to school, and charged her electronics. Another mom, Leah Kennedy, took two kids to keep busy in the children’s library. Her husband took one child to work to help her out, she said. Their home was without power for several days. “We just needed to get out of the house for a couple of hours,” Kennedy said.

The library remained open until 11 p.m. through Sunday, but the staff was glad to have a place to stay as well. “A lot of our staff don’t have power,” Casserotti said. “One of them has a tree through her house. We’re all in the same boat too.”

Hospitality also shined through on social media outlets, where many people went to empathize with their friends about outages and the situation in town. Some locals offered assistance over Twitter. Jacquie Miller, or “@After_Words”, tweeted: “Hey Darien friends—please come by to charge your electronics or just have some coffee and warm up.” Her home had power back on Wednesday, Oct. 31 and Miller remembered an offer she recieved last year from Jen St. Jean, “Twitter friend” and “real-life friend,” she said. St. Jean invited Miller and her family over during an “extended outage after Irene last year,” she said. “So I was attempting to pay it forward, as it were.”

ydavydov@darientimes.com

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