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Woog's World / Lots of giving to be thankful for

Published 11:33 am, Monday, November 19, 2012
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Every few years, on the Friday before Thanksgiving, I write a "giving thanks" column.

I don't do it every year. I'd wear out my welcome, and besides, all the thanks I'd be giving would start to sound the same. There are only so many times we can single out amazing public servants, our teachers, and Bonnie at Great Cakes.

So why is this year different from every other year?

Just two weeks ago, we sat in the dark. We spent our days scavenging for hot food and hot WiFi, our nights shivering under piles of blankets.

Now most of us are almost back to normal. It will take quite a while longer for some Westporters -- particularly those whose homes on the water were destroyed or devastated, and those on Saugatuck Shores dealing with massive sewer problems -- to feel things are even close to normal. But Westport was spared the widespread havoc of Staten Island and Breezy Point, N.Y., and New Jersey. We were -- relatively speaking -- OK. For that we are thankful.

We are thankful too for the hundreds of utility crews, tree workers and others who labored long and hard to clear roads, restore power and get our cable and Internet up and running. It may not have felt it at the time, but restoring electricity to everyone in a week is remarkable.

Westport was hardly the only place affected. An enormous swath of the East Coast felt Sandy's wrath. The extent of damage was breathtaking. Restoration was hardly limited to stringing wires; a phenomenal amount of work had to be coordinated, then conducted in wind, cold and throughout each night. Looked at personally -- and I was one of those without power for six days -- a week without electricity, computers, phones, water and heat sucked. Looked at objectively, getting it all back up and running is a spectacular achievement.

Thanks, all you men and women -- from Connecticut, and far beyond -- who got it done.

Thanks too to the team that made the Long Lots shelter more than emergency accommodations; it was truly a "home away from home." CERT volunteers; Human Services representatives like Barbara Butler, Patty Haberstroh, Elaine Daignault and Kevin Godburn; police officer Ned Batlin; the school custodial staff, and Chartwell's food service workers -- all labored for days on end, with little sleep (and not much power) to make Long Lots a warm, welcoming place for Westporters with nowhere else to go.

At the other end of town, Sue Pfister and her staff turned the Senior Center into another important refuge. "Senior Center" is really a misnomer. In times like Sandy, it's a haven for all.

Meanwhile, when the sun shone, so did hundreds of Westporters. Forty Staples High School boys soccer players shoveled several hundred wheelbarrows full of sand from a teammate's home on Soundview Avenue; the next day, more returned to help other neighbors. Members of Staples' Service League of Boys pitched in at Old Mill Beach. A few dozen Stapleites heeded principal John Dodig's call to assist Parks and Recreation crews at Longshore.

Tom Hofstetter rented a truck, parked it by his home at the corner of Imperial Avenue and Bridge Street, then solicited donations of goods for hard-hit areas of Staten Island and New Jersey. Within hours, the truck was filled. Tom kept going, day after day. The donations kept coming. Like the Staples students, everyone contributed because it was the right thing to do. No one sought thanks. But they all deserve them.

The Westport Public Library, as always, announced it was opening its doors (and electrical outlets). When long lines formed long before the official start time, the decision was simple: Let 'em all in.

Other places in town -- from Christ and Holy Trinity Church to merchants large and small -- were similarly generous. Even Green's Farms Spirit Shop owner Jack Riley helped customers in the dark. Hey, any port in a storm.

The Westport Family Y -- like the library, a mainstay in any crisis -- was unable to help this time. With 20 feet of water in its basement (where all electrical equipment is located), the Y needed to tend to itself. But as the ripple effect spread -- its childcare center in particular serves a crucial need -- Westporters rallied to help.

This column merely scratches the surface. I've got only 800 words to describe countless acts of kindness, generosity and selflessness, large and small. If I have not singled you or your particular contribution out, please forgive me. Know that it too is greatly appreciated, and deserving of thanks.

On Thursday, Westporters will sit down to wonderful meals. In my family, it's a tradition to joke about the "thanksgiving" part of the day. Every year, whatever we say sounds the same.

Every year, that is, except this one.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his"Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.