CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Jesse Rodriguez is retired and doesn’t mind spending some time outdoors in the cold. So when the city of Cedar Rapids sought volunteers to help vulnerable residents clear snow from their sidewalks, he figured he ought to help out.
After signing up to receive city alerts to his phone, he saw a call for “Snow Hero” volunteers to participate in Cedar Rapids’ new Snow Buddies pilot program.
The program pairs residents in need of assistance with volunteers who can help clear sidewalks of snow and ice in the winter. The program is intended to benefit residents who are not physically able to remove snow and do not have other resources to remove snow, such as neighbors, friends or a hired service.
“Helping people out is something I don’t mind doing,” Rodriguez told the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
After a slow start, winter’s arrival now has now brought with it freezing temperatures and several inches of snow. But Cedar Rapids still is soliciting volunteers to match with Snow Buddies. More clients applied for help than volunteers did to help them.
According to the city, 20 “Snow Hero” volunteers have been paired with 29 residents, or “Snow Buddies” clients, so far this winter. Four volunteers also are serving as backups in case a Snow Hero cannot shovel — for instance, if they are out of town or ill.
The number of participants is limited by the number of viable volunteers who consent to and clear a background check, and are either located within proximity to a client or willing to travel farther. The city is especially seeking volunteers who are able to travel longer distances to close the need gap.
Heroes must be at least 18 years old and provide their own snow removal equipment. To find more information or sign up, visit CityofCR.com/SnowBuddies.
Cedar Rapids launched this pilot program in 2021 after the City Council approved municipal code changes amending the guidelines for property owners to clear snow and ice from sidewalks. These changes shortened the time frame from 48 to 24 hours and established a new civil citation for violators and an appeal process.
City officials have said maintaining clear sidewalks and sidewalk ramps is important to ensure that residents can access their sidewalks, bus stops or routes to businesses. Property owners are responsible for their sidewalk and adjacent sidewalk ramps at intersections.
The Snow Buddies program is spurring interest among other Corridor communities. Stan Laverman, senior housing inspector for Iowa City, said trial efforts to mirror Cedar Rapids’ initiative are underway this winter in Iowa City.
Rodriguez said it was a simple process to get involved. Once paired with a client, he introduced himself before venturing out to clear snow with either his snowblower or some shovels. He said the city encourages volunteers to connect with the clients beforehand.
Making it especially convenient to lend a helping hand, the three Snow Buddy clients he helps live close by. The farthest is about eight minutes away from his southwest Cedar Rapids home, Rodriguez said. Once snow stops falling, Rodriguez said he immediately goes to the Snow Buddies’ residences to help out.
“They’re just people that need a hand,” Rodriguez said.
He would encourage more residents to sign up as volunteers.
“It gives you a good feeling and you’re helping people out, making new friends in your neighborhood,” Rodriguez said.
Nicole Hanson, who also lives in the southwest quadrant, said she was looking for a new volunteer opportunity when she learned of this program through a city email. It seemed like something good she could do close to home with a short time commitment.
“It’s hard to get outside when it’s so cold, so I like that motivation to get out and be active, and of course to help someone out,” Hanson said.
Her Snow Buddy lives just a mile away — a three-minute drive or about 20 minutes to walk. Hanson has reached out so the client has her name and number.
She hasn’t had the opportunity to clear snow for this resident yet, as she said others have helped clear snow before she could make it out to her Snow Buddy’s house. But she still would recommend the program to others to help keep sidewalks clear with the city’s tighter time frame for snow removal.
“For folks that can’t get out and do it themselves, it’s a great thing,” Hanson said. “Or maybe can’t afford to, or for whatever reason. I’d hate to see someone get fined for something like that.”