LACKAWANNA, N.Y. — The Lackawanna Senior Citizens Center has resumed normal operations for the first time since the Blizzard of 2022 started.
At its peak, the center housed 130 people who had either lost heat at their homes or got stranded on the road and needed a warm safe place to stay.
"During the storm, this pretty much became a bunker," said Chuck Clark, the Public Information Officer for the City of Lackawanna.
It was a difficult time for neighbors forced to shelter in place, staff who worked there 24/7, but also the shelter itself.
Clark said carpeting and furniture had to be replaced because of overuse by people and animals staying at the center. The roof leaked in a couple of spots as well and Clark said the entire center received a deep clean.
"I'd say we're about 95% of the way completed [with repairs] with a little bit more to go," he said.
During the storm, the majority of people at the center were vehicle rescues Clark explained. Local law enforcement, firefighters, and volunteer snowmobilers recruited by the city brought as many as 70 of those individuals to the shelter.
"Once the thruway and other arteries became clogged very quickly Lackawanna became a receptacle for a lot of people," Clark said.
Cots were stacked up at the entrance of the main gathering space Monday getting ready for transport back to the Erie County Emergency Operations Center Clark said. The beds were the only sign that the center had people sleeping there just days earlier.
Fortunately, Clark said thanks to donations from businesses and public entities they were able to feed the masses. Lackawanna Middle/High School also provided some unexpected aid after they were able to get staff into their cafeteria, a half mile down the road, and transport it to the Senior Center.
The group that Clark recalls the most was some 50 or so tourists who were on their way to Niagara Falls but got stuck in their coach bus on Route 5.
"They were not from the country they were here pretty much on a visit and they had no idea of where to go so the fact that we were able to help them and get them out of harm's way and keep them warm and safe while the storm was going on was really huge," said Clark.
Monday marked the first day when the center was able to resume its daily lunch program and Bingo will get back up and running later this week. The Lackawanna Senior Citizen's Center is open Monday - Friday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
When asked about how the city plans to change its blizzard/emergency response plan Clark said those discussions remain ongoing. One thing he did share was that the city may look to expand its relationship with the school district in these difficult situations.
"We've always been prepared because of where we're located but it will definitely enhance and make better what we do," Clark said.