City recruiting volunteers as 'snow angels'

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The Ravenstahl administration will try to formalize something this winter that many city residents already do: help their elderly or infirm neighbors shovel snow.

A month out from the official start of winter, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl this week announced a new program matching volunteers with older and disabled residents who need help shoveling and salting their sidewalks and steps. The program is called "Snow Angels."

"The Snow Angel program probably unofficially happened in Pittsburgh every year anyway, but to get people involved and really sign their name and take ownership, we think, is important," Mr. Ravenstahl said Wednesday.

To get volunteer help, residents must be age 60 or older or have a disability and live within the city's official boundaries. The city also asks that they lack the resources -- either nearby family or the ability to pay -- to have snow removal performed themselves.

Volunteers will be issued bright vests, de-icing salt and, if necessary, a snow shovel from their local public works division headquarters. The program already has attracted volunteers and is set to start when the city gets its first snowfall. Applications are open to volunteers of any age, which means students can sign on.

Similar programs are offered in cities across Canada, where helpers often are called "Snow Angels," too. The program also is common in the Midwest and often is pitched to students who want to do community work.

While Pittsburgh's program is supposed to cover any sticking snowfall -- snow that is not expected to melt within 24 hours -- other cities ask for the service to kick in only after 3 inches have fallen or the weather is officially declared a snow emergency. Some cities ask neighborhood groups to organize their snow-clearing volunteers or for residents themselves to connect with neighboring seniors or disabled residents.

In Pittsburgh, the Ravenstahl administration will be in charge of pairing applicants with volunteers. The city warns that all applicants may not receive the service if there are not enough volunteers, which is a problem other cities have faced, too.

The city expects volunteers to shovel snow for at least 80 percent of the winter months -- if they expect to travel often or otherwise are not be able to meet that threshold, they can volunteer to do spot duty.

The administration is planning an online city map to plot where extra volunteers are needed.

Residents can apply or volunteer for the service at city senior centers, the 311 response line or at http://www.pittsburghpa.gov/servepgh/snowangels.

The Mount Ararat Community Activity Center in Larimer has signed adults and youth from its after-school program to help 30 residents, and the City-County Task Force on Disabilities is coordinating outreach to disabled residents who may need assistance.

Mr. Ravenstahl said the cost of the program is minimal, about $1,000. It is being handled by his servePGH office, which has promoted volunteer neighborhood cleanup, youth mentoring programs and other initiatives.

It is part of the Cities of Service program he signed onto in September 2009, headed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581. Follow the Early Returns blog at www.post-gazette.com/earlyreturns or on Twitter at @EarlyReturns.


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