When Snow Hits, How Can We Help Those Most Vulnerable?

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Joseph Porcelli

For the elderly and people with disabilities, snowstorms can mean being trapped at home unable to get to work, to the food store, to the pharmacy, or have the mail delivered. It can mean that for days, you’re stuck alone in your home fearful of what might happen and that the stability of your health and life might be compromised.

For Colleen Roche (Board Chair at the Alliance Center for Independence, Edison NJ), a wheelchair user, a simple errand can become time consuming and frustrating.

“State laws deal with snow removal from parking areas, town ordinances deal with removal from sidewalks, but nothing addresses the clearance of curb cuts. I’ve literally spent hours on the telephone trying to figure out whose responsibility it is to clear the cuts and the street in front of them. A curb cut that piled with 3’ of snow is as useless to a wheelchair user as not shoveling at all. The generosity of Snowcrew volunteers to dig out their neighbors, means that accomplishing simple tasks like grocery shopping become possible again.”

Isolation is one of the main contributors that leads many seniors and those with disabilities to face this situation during snowstorms. The good ol’ days of when neighbors knew and took care of each are uncommon. There is hope and we have evidence that is and and will continue change for the better.

We believe that people want to and will help out their neighbors. What is missing is communication and connection.

What has been done to assist address help the elderly and people with disabilities during snowstorms?

To combat this, government organizations and community partners have formed snow teams but their processes are hindered by legalities and their technology limited by budgets and the struggle to attract the volume of volunteers needed to accommodate the high demand for the service.

Today, it’s our honor to introduce you to www.snowcrew.org.

What is Snowcrew?

Snowcrew.org a mobile optimized web app that connects people who need help shoveling with nearby neighbors “Yetis/Volunteers” who can and want to help dig out their neighbors.

Yetis shovel out people who are not physically able to shovel or cannot afford to hire someone to dig them out.

Each time it snows, whomever needs help shoveling log into www.snowcrew.org and request “Shoveling Assistance.” Those who have signed up to help get notified that a neighbor (s) needs help. They can also “scout” to see who needs help via Snowcrew.org on their mobile phone or device of choice.

No middle man is required and citizens works together neighbor-to-neighbor to help each other out. Over the last 12 months, Snowcrew has helped resolve 260 shoveling requests!

What difference to Snowcrew Make?

  • Snowcrew helps keep people healthy and financially sound – When shoveled out, people can get to the pharmacy, food store, and medical appointments. Social security checks, medications and medical equipment are delivered.
  • Snowcrew increases resilience – When communities are connected and in service to each other they are stronger and better poised to prevent, respond to, and overcome challenges and disasters.
  • Snowcrew eases the burden on government – Citizens who have time and wish to pitch in dig out publicproperty such as fire hydrants, handicap ramps and curb cuts, and bus stops that increase accessibility and improve quality of life.
  • Snowcrew fosters connection - Those who request and give shoveling assistance enjoy new connections,friendships, and experiences.

Who do people who have been helped by snowcrew say?

  • “I’m blown away; I have never received help like this from strangers before, and I’m honored to now call them my neighbors. So my deepest and heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you”. Nancy, Hardyston NJ who was trapped in her home for 4 days following a storm in February 2014.
  • “Just wanted to thank you and Bob for helping me as a neighbor to clear my car so I could make it to my doctor’s appt. It made an important difference”. Marcia, Jamaica Plain, MA Feburary 2014
  • “Someone came to help! thank you!” Michelle, Lincroft NJ February 2014

How can you get involved?

  • Go to snowcrew.org and create a profile to volunteer or request shoveling assistance
  • Help us spread the word by RTing our tweets and sharing our facebook updates.
  • Share this post to your networks
  • Shovel out cars parked in and empty handicap parking spots
  • Check in our neighbors who are elderly and have disabilities

How did Snowcrew Get Started?

Snowcrew got started in 2009 when I realized one my widowed elderly neighbors might be stuck in her home during huge storm we had. The first version of Snowcrew used a Google map and a Google form. After I learned about former Mayor Cory Booker digging out his constituents after receiving a constituent tweet, I wanted to see if I could build on former Mayor Booker’s success by using technology to allow neighbors to engage each other online to get shoveled out simultaneously and in multiple cities and towns at the same time. Today, Snowcrew.org accomplishes this goal!

What technology powers Snowcrew?

Two leaders in government digital communication and Open Government power the Snowcrew.org solution. SeeClickFix built and operates Snowcrew.org and via it’s API powers the “shovel request” submittal, “scout” mapping, watch area notifications, commenting and case management system. For neighborhoods where municipalities and community partners wish to formally adopt Snowcrew or are clients of GovDelivery, GovDelivery provides neighborhood and municipality specific automated emails and text message notifications when shoveling assistance requests are submitted.


Authored By:

Joseph Porcelli – Founder and volunteer organizer of Snowcrew.org and Director of Engagement Services at GovDelivery

Carole Tonks, Snowcrew.org Advisor, Executive Director, Alliance Center for Independence, Edison NJ

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