April 07, 2020

New MBNA office complex offers shelter

BELFAST — Two tiny girls are pasting together rainbow-colored collages at one table. In the middle of the same giant room, seven boys and girls are snapping together a plastic toy tower. In another corner, two dozen senior citizens are watching television and conversing around tables. At a nearby buffet, guests are pondering cuisine choices from barbecued pork to apple pie.

And we’re in the midst of a disaster?

Well, this is how disaster management works when the Red Cross meets MBNA.

The credit card giant Friday opened up part of its new 230,000-square-foot office complex as a Red Cross shelter for the scores of Waldo County residents without power in their homes. As with most things MBNA undertakes, creating a temporary shelter has been a blitzkrieg enterprise. Dozens of MBNA employees have volunteered to serve food, drive shuttle buses, supervise day care and direct the flow of visitors to the shelter.

According to Frank Murphy, the MBNA executive vice president in charge of community relations, the company became involved for a simple reason.

“The Red Cross asked us to,” Murphy said. “Very quickly we realized that we had 37,000 square feet that fit their needs perfectly.”

Located about a mile west of Route 1 on Route 3, the new complex is actually three buildings connected by two atriums, and eventually will house 2,000 employees. One of the buildings is completed, and workers already have moved into it. The shelter is located in the second floor of the southern building — the interior of which construction workers had virtually finished off Thursday. “In an unfortunate situation, this was a good bit of timing,” Murphy said.

The lights of the MBNA offices in Belfast have been a constant throughout the storm because of its high-capacity generators. “Our business demands that we have power 24 hours a day,” Murphy said.

Belfast was originally to have a shelter at East Belfast School, but that part of the city lost its power a day into the storm, said Rick Farris, the director of the Waldo County Emergency Management Agency. When the logistics of getting enough generator power to the school appeared too time-consuming, he moved the 20 or so people from the powerless school to the agency’s headquarters near the sheriff’s office.

The growing cadre of storm victims soon overwhelmed the small space. The National Guard armory on Route 1 in Belfast had no generator, Farris said, and would not work as a shelter.

It was then that Farris asked a member of the Red Cross, with whom Farris had been coordinating disaster relief, to ask MBNA officials if the company could help.

“I’ve never seen a business open up to a community like MBNA has done here,” Farris said late Saturday night as he stood in the shelter.

Although its business is in issuing and servicing credit cards, MBNA seems ideally set up for disaster relief. Its electrical power is constant. It has a fleet of buses and vans for transport. It has a fully stocked kitchen and personnel to prepare meals. It has a nurse on staff. Its day care is stocked with a plethora of toys and operated by employees.

And once a decision has been made that the company will undertake a project, MBNA launches into it with vigor — and in this case, with volunteers.

According to Linda Bucklin, the shelter’s Red Cross coordinator, MBNA is providing three full meals each day and also has bought clothes, diapers and other everyday hygiene items.

“MBNA has been a real godsend,” Bucklin said. “The Red Cross doesn’t have a whole lot of volunteers, so I can’t imagine what we’d have done without them. It feels good working around here.”

By 10 p.m. Friday, 104 people from all over the county had checked into the shelter for the night. Most of the lodgers are families with small children or the very old.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, not in my day — and I’m 70,” Albert Wing said of the storm. Wing lives alone in a mobile home in Morrill. Before coming to the MBNA shelter, he had spent one night in the emergency agency’s headquarters, which is connected to the county jail.

“I’m 88 years old and it’s the first time I ever had to go to jail,” said Rachel Bagley, who also spent the night at the headquarters.

Lubelle Colby, probably the oldest shelter dweller at 96 years old, said she had never seen such a storm either.

“But we couldn’t have gotten better service than we’ve gotten here,” she said while standing next to her cot Saturday evening.

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