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Shovelling brigade: Volunteers coming together to help stranded N.L. seniors

John Riche is working to reunite a snow shovelling brigade that first formed after a wicked winter blizzard in 2020 that was nicknamed ‘Snowmageddon’. (CTV) John Riche is working to reunite a snow shovelling brigade that first formed after a wicked winter blizzard in 2020 that was nicknamed ‘Snowmageddon’. (CTV)
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Mount Pearl, N.L. -

With 75 centimetres of snow on the ground, it was time to get the band back together.

The last time this much snow had fallen so quickly, much of eastern Newfoundland was placed under a state of emergency, in a wicked 2020 blizzard nicknamed “Snowmaggedon.”

Over the past two week, since a fresh mound of snow has fallen again in the St. John’s area, the familiar calls for help have returned: People needing help regaining access to their front or back doors, oil tanks or windows.

“It was heavy, it was laden with water, and that froze up and all of a sudden I saw the calls coming out on social media for people that need to be shovelled out,” said John Riche, a resident of the Mount Pearl, a city neighbouring St. John’s.

“The cost of getting somebody to do it is quite prohibitive, so I went back and tried to get the band back together, so to speak.”

Riche organized a neighbourly shovelling brigade in 2020 in the wake of Snowmaggedon, and with a few returnees — and some new volunteers — his group is back together again.

They’ve taken care of about 20 houses so far, with more rain, freezing rain and snow in the forecast for Mount Pearl.

“We’ve got lots of people [who] still need help,” he said. “I’m getting emails and texts all the time about seniors and old people who are just trapped in their homes.”

Clearing out from the latest snowfalls on the Avalon Peninsula has been a demanding job, Riche said but he doesn’t find it as difficult as coordinating all his volunteers' schedules.

“I mean, yes, it’s tough, but you get to hang out with people, you know, lots of laughs too. And if you’ve got seven or eight people doing the driveway, it takes five or 10 minutes, right?”

The rough winter weather — which seems to have arrived all at once in eastern Newfoundland — has revealed a lot of need in the province’s aging population.

As the administrator of a 31,000-person Facebook group designed for co-ordinating charity efforts, Courtney Barber sees a lot of requests for snow clearing and winter help.

“It’s a person who relies on oil heat and their oil tank is in a spot where you need a loader to remove the snow,” she said. “They said ‘I can’t afford the oil and the snow removal’.”

Cortney Barber helps administer the Neighbours in Need Facebook group. She won a Wishbone award from the Canadian Turkey Marketing Agency for her charitable work. (Submitted by Cortney Barber)

Her "Neighbours in Need" group was recognized in December with an award for their holiday season charity efforts.

Barber said winter brings out the volunteering spirit in many people.

“People, I think, really put themselves in other people’s shoes during the winter,” she said. “They understand, you know, if you’re disabled or you’re a senior, you’re stuck in your home, you can’t take the bus to get your groceries.”

Climate change means dramatic snowfalls and weather events are sure to come in Newfoundland and Labrador, and there’s no easy fix for an aging population to keep up.

Riche said a few more neighbourly volunteering efforts would go a long way.

“I don’t know if there’s a solution other than more community gets together and starts to say, you know, ‘We got to help our seniors, we got to help the disabled, we got to spend an hour and half outside and clean up a few places’.”

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