Kindness in The Storm: How We Helped Each Other During the Outages

An army of field crews, including technicians from Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) and more than 500 others from across the Midwest, worked around the clock to restore power to 120,000 customers affected by last week’s strong winter storm, according to WPS.

Northern Door County alone at one point had some 10,000 customers and properties with outages that began on Tuesday, April 2. By Saturday and Sunday, April 6-7, WPS and WE Energies trucks began parading out of the county, the only remaining outage one that began post-storm on Sunday evening, affecting four customers on the northeast side of Sister Bay. 

Through it all, neighbors and businesses across the peninsula helped each other weather the storm’s wake. They opened their doors to provide light and warmth, made space in their freezers, offered their showers, electrical outlets and internet access.

We’ve listed below some of these acts of kindness. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s still impressive; still shows us who we are as a people; still reminds us how fortunate we are to live in a place where people have our backs when the going gets tough.

Many people and businesses generously reached out to help one another during multiple days of power outages. The folks at Jerry’s Flowers in Sister Bay donated a little humor. Photo by Sam Watson.

•When Lodge at Leathem Smith owner Paul Meleen got a call from general manager Milan Stosic, asking if they could donate rooms to people, Meleen embraced the idea. Stosic put out the word on Leathem Smith’s Facebook page late Tuesday night. Soon, on Wednesday, they had 58 rooms filled, and also served free breakfast and lunch. Many people stayed until Thursday, when all employees on staff helped with room cleaning. Thursday night, they refilled the rooms, again for free, with many of the guests coming from Brussels and the Fish Creek area after they learned they might not have power until Saturday.

•Other lodging providers gave deep discounts, such as melaniejane at Holiday Music Motel in Sturgeon Bay, who provided some free, second-night stays. John Zacek, owner of Open Hearth Lodge in Sister Bay, cut rates for local residents to the winter price he offers to Washington Island residents when they miss the ferry. Zacek said the lodge was as busy as it is in early July. 

•The sloppy height of the windy storm happened on Tuesday night, April 2 – Election Day. Transfer modems for election results from all municipalities to the County of Door failed (see related story in this issue), requiring clerks and poll workers to risk the commute. Relatives and friends came to the rescue, establishing carpooling squadrons that picked up results from other municipalities to minimize the number of motorists who had to be out on the roads. These carpools happened everywhere from the top to the bottom of the peninsula – and the election results made it in, with everyone safe and sound. 

•Neighbors reached out to neighbors. Just one example: Kari Anderson of Jacksonport posted on Facebook how grateful she was to have power and invited neighbors “who need some help … charging your phone, water, heat, to stop in. Any little thing.”

•Restaurants and taverns welcomed people to linger longer than usual. Just one example: Bridge Up Brewing invited people to work there remotely Friday and take advantage of the warmth and wifi. 

•Walmart in Sturgeon Bay provided water, bread, fruit, peanut butter and jelly to help guests at the Lodge at Leathem Smith, and Cellcom provided phone chargers for people at the resort.

•As outages surpassed 48 hours for many households, Seaquist Orchard and Northern Grill and Pub in Sister Bay separately offered to provide freezer and cooler space for people. Lisa MacDonald, the owner of Northern Grill for 27 years, turned on the coolers and freezers for a friend in need. Soon after, word spread of the availability, and MacDonald posted that she would provide the space to anyone in need.

•After power went out all over the island, Washington Island police, firefighters and first responders joined with Washington Island Electric Cooperative staff to drive all the roads, walk treelines, test lines and note all downed wires and snapped poles. Police Chief Taylor McGrane set up a command center and instructed volunteers to check on every house where people might need help. Often, they were greeted by hugs and thank-yous. He and others pulled release cords to manually open automatic garage doors and let people know where they could go for food, showers and an emergency warming center, where the American Red Cross provided help.

•The Washington Island Electric Cooperative posted frequent updates and expressed thanks for all the baked goods, treats and food donated by businesses as well as the many “good cooks” on the island.

•Washington Island Rec Center welcomed everyone, including nonmembers, to shower, charge phones and swim, and on Thursday alone had people from 22 households take advantage of the opportunity, said Katie McGrane, Rec Center Manager. Most were not members or regular Rec Center visitors.

•Government buildings, such as Baileys Harbor and Sister Bay/Liberty Grove fire stations, opened their doors for shelter, warming and aid.

•The YMCA in Sturgeon Bay invited people to shower there Thursday.

•Southern Door County School District opened the doors 6-9 pm Thursday to provide district residents without power to use phone chargers and internet, to take showers and to fill water jugs. The district also opened the gym for two hours.

•Sip in Sister Bay offered free soup and pasta and filled water bottles for customers.

•The Brussels-Union-Gardner fire department provided generator power to run sump pumps for residents experiencing basement flooding. The firefighters also provided water to over 100 farm animals.