Winter weather brings its fair share of challenges for everyone, but for more vulnerable residents, it can be downright dangerous. If you want to be neighborly during cold snaps, snowstorms, and other dreary weather, here are seven ways you can help your community.
1. CHECK ON YOUR NEIGHBORS.
When temperatures drop, be sure to check in on your neighbors, especially older ones. If they live on a fixed income, they may not have enough money for extra food or even heat to get through bitter weather, and they shouldn’t be going out in the cold, anyway. Older people’s bodies run colder, and they’re at more of a risk of hypothermia. Pop by to see if they need someone to pick up groceries and take note of the temperature inside. A brief hello before and after a storm could make all the difference.
2. OFFER TO SHOVEL OUT SOMEONE’S CAR.
It may not seem like a big deal, but shoveling snow is dangerous business. Research has found that there’s strong uptick in heart attacks after snowstorms. Around 100 people die in the U.S. every year while shoveling snow, an activity that’s more rigorous than getting on the treadmill. One cardiologist recommends that people over 55 eliminate it entirely from their post-storm routines. So where does that leave older people once the storm passes? If you live near someone who may not be well enough to shovel their driveway, offer to do it for them. You could be saving their life.
3. AND DON’T FORGET TO CLEAR YOUR SIDEWALK.
While you’re off attending to your neighbor’s car, don’t forget the sidewalks, including your own. In many areas, property owners are required to clear the sidewalks within the first 24 hours after a storm ends. But you shouldn’t stop there. To keep it clear, take the easy extra step of salting it (or throwing on another de-icing agent). Slipping and falling can cause serious injuries. Icy sidewalks pose an especially great risk to older people, who are more likely to fall anyway. By shoveling your sidewalks and keeping them clear, you’ll be keeping your community safe and making walking down the street easier for everyone.
4. DONATE YOUR WARM CLOTHING.
Your gently used coats, hats, scarves, and gloves shouldn’t sit in storage all winter. If you have extras that you’ve outgrown or don’t wear anymore, donate them to families in need. Non-profits, homeless shelters, thrift stores, and even some dry cleaners run coat drives during the winter to keep vulnerable residents safe from frostbite.
5. HEAD TO THE FOOD PANTRY.
Winter is a great time to volunteer at a soup kitchen or donate to a food pantry. Food insecurity hits particularly hard during the winter months, and food pantries often see a spike in families relying on them to get them through the season, especially for people who rely on more seasonal work that tends to dry up in the winter, like landscaping. Kids who normally get lunches at school are home, and homeless shelter populations swell. And pantries need help beyond those old cans in your kitchen cupboard. They have to deal with heating bills and volunteers that are all suddenly out of town due to holiday travel, too. Even if you don’t have cans to give, you can help out by donating a few dollars or by showing up to work a shift.
6. ALERT THE AUTHORITIES IF YOU SEE SOMEONE WHO NEEDS SHELTER.
During extreme bouts of cold or snow, homeless services are especially strapped as vulnerable citizens flock to shelters. Not everyone has a warm place to sleep during winter weather, though. Most cities employ emergency alerts during inclement weather so that concerned residents can alert the authorities if they see someone on the streets who needs help. If you’re worried about someone on the street, call your local homeless shelter hotline or your city’s 311 service.
7. DELIVER FOOD TO THE HOMEBOUND.
Storms hit extra hard on those who can’t leave their homes. Bad weather can delay meal delivery programs for the elderly and disabled, making it even more important to check in on neighbors and offer them a warm meal. But even when meal deliveries are up and running, they may lack drivers to get the food from their center to people’s homes. Volunteering doesn’t just provide meals for the hungry. For people who can’t leave their houses, it may be the only opportunity they have for social interaction that day.