SHERIDAN — Where were you when the lights went out on April 24? The Sheridan area was affected by a power outage last Tuesday morning.
Mornings are peak meal preparation time for the Sheridan Senior Center, which serves lunches 365 days of the year. The center serves meals not only at its dining room at 211 Smith St. but also prepares meals for transport to Heritage Towers, Tongue River Valley, and, on Thursdays, to the Big Horn Woman’s Club in Big Horn. The center also prepares 150-180 home-delivered meals during this time for service throughout Sheridan County communities.
When the power outage occurred, the Sheridan Senior Center engaged its risk management procedures — assessing the situation, checking on staff and clients on site and determining the response based on the length of time for the outage.
Development associate Nick Munford utilized his smartphone to access the Montana-Dakota Utilities outages website and kept staff apprised of the utility provider’s estimates for down time. This was especially critical information for the meal preparation, which had begun earlier that morning.
“We needed to know if power was up by 10 a.m. or we would have to cancel meal service,” said meals manager Ronda Paavilainen. “The food would hold only until then.”
If meal service was canceled, it would have been the second time in its 43 years of meal service that the Senior Center would have done so. The Senior Center had to close services — including meals — during a power outage in October 2014. The center has been serving meals 365 days since it began its meal program over four decades ago.
But concern was especially for vulnerable individuals receiving home-delivered meals. A number of these individuals rely solely on the Senior Center’s home-delivered meals. Paavilainen had the answer.
“We were able to package and deliver home-delivered meals,” she said.
But the challenge was continuing to do so in the dark. The Senior Center’s emergency lights throughout the center had not yet been installed in the kitchen, which is scheduled to undergo major construction and renovation in four weeks.
The Senior Center staff rallied with a solution. Staff members with smartphones grabbed them and powered on their flashlight apps. Others grabbed traditional flashlights from bags located throughout the center. The staff provided light for the kitchen team, which continued packing meals for home delivery.
The kitchen team used plastic wrap for the meals when the electrically-powered Oliver heat-wrap machine went down.
Community volunteers stopped by the center to see if they could help deliver meals and the home-delivered meals were out the door.
Diners trickled into the dining room throughout the outage and determined dominoes players gathered by one of the dining room windows to play by the natural light.
By 10:30 a.m., the power was restored. The center was able to provide a lunch to 40 diners who came to the center through the snow storm.
“Thanks to everyone for your help and awesome attitude this morning,” Executive Director Carmen Rideout said in an email to staff. “I appreciate you all immensely.”
Power stayed on the remainder of the day and activities at the Senior Center resumed as scheduled.
By Linda Gostas
Sheridan Senior Center