Snow shovel

File Photo 

Volunteers with shovels and strong backs wanted.

The City of Aurora is looking for more volunteers to support a program aimed at connecting people who cannot shovel the snow off their sidewalks with people willing to help out.

The city’s Snow Busters program pairs a volunteer with a neighbor who has limited financial resources, or cannot shovel snow due to their age, a disability or other condition. Volunteers sign up for the entire snow season, and head out to shovel their neighbor’s public sidewalk each time it snows at least two inches.

Volunteers must be at least 14 years old and pass a background check. Youth must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Lowes and The Home Depot have donated snow shovels this year that volunteers can keep.

People applying to have someone shovel their snow must be a city resident, have limited financial resource or be unable to shovel their sidewalks because of their age, a disability or other condition.

The city has connected nine people with a volunteer this year, but 14 applicants still need to be matched, city spokesman Michael Brannen said. The city receives an average of two to three applications each week from people who need help shoveling their properties.

Volunteers must undergo a background check, Brannen said, for the safety of the people receiving assistance. That can take a few days to complete.

Chad Angell, the volunteer coordinator for the city, said the program has been running for several years but needs more volunteers.

Last year the city received 13 applications from people seeking assistance but had only nine volunteers — a slower year than typical. The city could receive anywhere between 15 and 30 applicants in a year, he said.

The program truly needs more volunteers than applicants in order to run efficiently, he said, because the city tries to match volunteers with applicants who live less than three miles away.

“So that doesn’t necessarily mean just because we have volunteers that we are able to match,” he said.

The city does not want volunteers driving farther distances in potentially inclement driving conditions because of safety concerns, he said.

The program was launched by the housing and community services department to help people who may not be able to shovel their properties avoid violations, Angell said. City law requires public sidewalks and areas be shoveled within 24 hours of a snow event.

“The same department that would issue those fines started this volunteer program,” he said.

Not just a volunteer coordinator, Angell has also been a volunteer. He matched with three neighbors last year. He didn’t meet all the people he shoveled snow for, but he does fondly remember one of them -- an elderly woman about to enter hospice care.

“She’d always pop her head out and thank me and offer hot chocolate,” he said. “It was a special little relationship.”

Angell did not find the volunteer work to be a huge time commitment. He was already out shoveling his snow, he said, and spent roughly 30 minutes shoveling the other properties.

“It’s making the neighborhood safer,” he said. “It’s just a great way to help out your neighbors.”

First-time volunteer Jason Schneider said the same. A volunteer with other citizen boards and commissions, Schneider learned about the program through information passed out during other meetings and decided to sign up.

“It was just a very manageable way to go out and do something for someone else,” he said.

He’s gone out a couple of times this year to shovel the sidewalks of the neighbor he is matched with, who lives roughly one mile away. The city aims to match one volunteer to one applicant, he said. Although it only asks volunteers to shovel public sidewalks, he’s also willing to do the driveway and walkway to the door.

Schneider turns on his Pandora playlist and looks forward to getting in some exercise while contributing to his community, he said.

“Before you know it," he said, it’s already done.”