The earliest snowstorm on record since the Civil War hit Saturday afternoon. Before long, the flakes piled up on trees, weighing down branches until they snapped into yards and toppled onto main roads. Then – for hundreds of thousands of residents of people across New Jersey, New York and Connecticut – the lights went out.

“There was a fire down the road from us [Saturday] afternoon,” says Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Shaya Gopin of how a transmitter had been hit by debris in West Hartford, Conn. “You’d hear the crackling of branches failing down, and then the different wires that were snapped. A whole tree blocked off North Main Street.”

With power service still spotty in some areas, Chabad Houses throughout the region are taking measures to make sure people have access to services – Gopin’s Chabad House of Greater Hartford offered an evening prayer service by candlelight – and addressing needs most would consider basic any other day. Gopin rattles off the various centers he knows off that are providing showers and hot tea, delivering food and reaching out to other area residents.

Those in Gopin’s community who could scrambled to find family and friends in the New Haven and Boston area, moving from house to house as others along the line lost power. Connection is key, says the rabbi, who came with his family to New York for a family event on Sunday. Many families, especially those with children, have left Greater Hartford, as temperatures in a house can quickly drop to unsafe levels at night.

“We’re making phone calls and staying in touch with everyone,” reports Gopin. “Some people have a fireplace, some people have gas. Others are bundling up.”

While the snow melts and crews fix power lines, several yeshivas moved their students to New York for the time being, adds Gopin.

When the power does come back on, it’ll mean massive cleanup for houses like Gopin’s, which keep fridges and freezers stocked with gefilte fish and meat for weekly Sabbath dinners. Some people have stuffed coolers with snow in an attempt to keep groceries cold, but it’s not likely to last.

“We’re going to have to throw it out,” says Gopin. “Hopefully it won’t give a stench to the appliances.”

Rabbi Yossi and Dalia Kulek, of Chabad Chevra serving the University of Hartford, did not lose power, and have been providing shelter to students and a base for area community members. With just a few campus buildings running on generators and classes cancelled for now, the Kuleks had between 12 and 20 students not just joining them for meals, but sleeping over in their eight-bedroom house.

“We’re feeding the kids three times a day,” says the rabbi. “We went through thousands of dollars of food, but it’s a real community spirit.”

Shoshana Cohen, 19, is one of the Kuleks’ guests. She usually comes to Chabad for learning and Sabbath programming, and headed over Sunday around noon. She says everyone’s been pitching in to cook meals and keep the place clean. She considers herself lucky to be somewhere with no shortage of beds, especially as reports come in of mass outages and students sleeping on cafeteria floors. And though she wasn’t necessarily expecting to spend time at her campus Chabad under these circumstances, she says she’s been enjoying the time she’s spending there.

“We’ve all been very close friends,” she notes, “but living together, some of the things we do make it seem like we’re siblings, like we’re a family.”