In midst of storm, aid from 'Snow Angels'

Volunteers turn out to shovel snow, run errands and ferry stranded residents

February 14, 2010|By Andrea F. Siegel

They've been driving the snow-packed streets and shoveling for days - but not for themselves. Throughout Anne Arundel County, volunteers have been helping not only their neighbors, but strangers trapped at home behind doors blocked by snowdrifts, who needed help digging out, who needed nonemergency transportation.

There was the woman who couldn't get her door open but needed her wheelchair, which was outside in her van. And the couple in their mid-80s, heart patients, who needed a path cleared.

And then there's the pet issue.

"There was a woman, she needed the front walk shoveled," said Veronica Blake of Glen Burnie. "And then the back porch for her dog to go out, and then a path down from that so the dog could get out and do his thing in private,"

Blake, a school crossing guard home from work all week with schools closed, her husband, her daughter and son-in-law and their toddler daughter have gone on several calls during the past week together. A four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Trailblazer is getting them around.

The idea originated with the new Disney program that offers a day in a Disney park or resort in exchange for a day of volunteering. So they enrolled and contacted the county, which welcomed them into what is known as the Snow Patrol.

The four adults - Blake, husband Bob, daughter Amanda Dayton and son-in-law Jeff Dayton - shovel people out while the Daytons' 18-month-old daughter, Berkley, stomps to break up chunks of ice and snow, Blake said.

"It's been fun for all of us, but when you see people cry because they are so happy to see you, you know you are helping," Blake said.

The Snow Patrol is one of two major county government volunteer programs. Affiliated with the county's Department of Aging and Disabilities, it is made up of residents who help others dig out of their driveways, or run errands and occasionally get them to a doctor's appointment.

The Four Wheel Drive program is made up of citizens with four-wheel-drive vehicles who can provide transportation.

Combined, they have about 60 volunteers. But, said county spokeswoman Tracie Reynolds, more offers to help out have been coming in daily, such as a call last week from Millersville entrepreneur Bill Tucker.

"This is the first time I have ever done something like this," said Tucker, who, with his Toyota Tundra, is an addition to the Four Wheel Drive program.

"I was born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., so driving in snow is something I'd been raised with," he said.

He took a man home to Pigtown from the Baltimore Washington Medical Center. The man, diabetic and chilled from being stranded in his car, had been taken by rescue workers to the hospital. But he'd spent an extra two days in the hospital because of the weather.

"To be helping out people is a good feeling," Tucker said. Besides, he noted, it has a certain rugged individualist attraction.

He also pulled out vehicles stuck in the snow, and he ferried District Court commissioners to Glen Burnie. Though courts were closed, the commissioners, who set bail, handle emergency domestic orders and have other roles, worked.

Another program through the Aging and Disabilities office has volunteers keeping tabs on elderly and disabled neighbors.

Two other networks affiliated with the county's Fire Department place call-takers in the Emergency Operations Center for non-emergency calls and train people to be ready for a variety of emergencies and help their neighbors learn to do the same, said Battalion Chief Steve Thompson. The volunteer efforts free county employees so they can focus on emergencies, he said.

Among the call-takers last week was County Council President Cathleen Vitale, whose husband is a firefighter, and whose teenage son Mark served as a go-fer at the center.

"Anything you can do to pitch in - I think it's appropriate," she said. "I think communities have done a wonderful job of pitching in to help their neighbors."

Among the calls she fielded: a mother running out of formula for a baby, a patient who had only 24 hours of oxygen left in a tank and a hospital employee seeking a ride to work.

Volunteers are being tagged as "Snow Angels" by County Executive John R. Leopold, who said whether they volunteer through a county program or reach out on their own to a person in need, they deserve recognition.

"I intend to honor these citizens by presenting them with a county citation," he said Thursday. "It's a great sense of community spirit."

He said he wants to present as many as possible himself, and is asking that people nominate those who've helped them out in the season's heavy snowfall.

To volunteer, call Karen Sank, volunteer coordinator, at 410-222-0611.

To nominate a Snow Angel: send an e-mail to, or call Karen Sank at 410-222-0611.

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