Vernon comes together amid power outages

Volunteers prepare to serve food.
By Mark Lichtenwalner

VERNON — With widespread power outages and hundreds of Vernon residents left without electricity due to last week's Nor’easter, several local institutions stepped up, and chipped in to help out their neighbors in need.
A Nor’easter is nothing new to the people of Vernon, in fact, it’s expected that one or more of the powerful storms would roll through every winter.
But last Fridays’ nor’easter, named Riley, was different. With insignificant snowfall amounts predicted and the most severe warnings given to coastal regions in the tristate area, little caution was given to interior sections of New Jersey on how strong the storm would be.
In fact, after the bulk of the precipitation came and went Friday, and the storm moved off the coast, most thought they were in the clear. It wouldn’t be until a day later, Saturday afternoon at approximately 4 p.m., that residents would come to realize just how unprepared for this storm they had been.
With strong, blustery winds still blowing, and the ground saturated by rain and melting snow, trees began falling Saturday afternoon, closing Route 515, and eventually knocking out the power to the entire town center of Vernon, as well as most of Glenwood and other surrounding areas.
Most of Vernon, along with hundreds of thousands of homes in the interior sections of New Jersey went dark; by Saturday night, the sounds of generators could be heard buzzing through almost every community.
That’s when the community stepped up and took action.
The Sussex County YMCA opened their doors to all Sussex county residents to offer hot showers and a chance to charge devices, while Mountain Creek offered discounts on food and a place to watch the Oscars Sunday night at the ski lodge; with no definitive time given on when the electricity would be restored, the Vernon municipal building also offered an opportunity for residents to collect potable drinking water. Free water and ice was also offered through several supermarkets in the area, including the Vernon and Sussex Acme stores.
The Vernon Board of Education Board of Education also stepped up and took action, by organizing a free community dinner at the Glen Meadow Middle School for anyone without power, and utility workers alike. Much of the credit for organizing the event was given to school board member Lori LePera, who, in a matter of hours, managed to get several local restaurants to donate food for the event.
Those restaurants contributing to the free dinner included: the Tomato Garden Pizza Restaurant; Pizza Pro’s; Mixing Bowl Restaurant; Smokey’s; The George Inn; and the Lamp Post Inn.
The event was so successful, and the turn-out so much higher than expected, that more food had to be ordered to feed everyone in attendance.
The high turnout could be attributed to social media.
“It’s all over Facebook,” one resident could be overheard saying.
“I think we’re going to run out of food,” Township Council President Jean Murphy said, as she left her serving station to inform Mayor Harry Shortway.
Mayor Shortway, aware of the food shortage, OK'ed the ordering of more food so all those in attendance were assured to be properly fed.
“Go ahead and order it,” Shortway said, “whatever it takes.”
The Vernon BOE free community dinner was so successful, that a second night was added, along with the invitation for anyone to sleep overnight in the gymnasium.