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Digging in, helping out

Thu., Jan. 31, 2008, midnight

Amanda Boyer is nine months pregnant, and she’d been wondering how she’d get to the hospital when she goes into labor. She and her husband, Sean, live at the end of a quarter-mile-long driveway in Deer Park, and their snowblower broke.

“We’re pretty much stuck here. I could have her at any minute,” Boyer, 19, said. “We have family, but no one has a plow. We were about ready to put a sign out in the front yard asking for help.”

The Boyers posted a call for help on Craigslist, then called their fire department, which referred them to a contractor who plowed the long driveway Wednesday afternoon.

As the snow has piled up throughout the region, so have calls for help from people who are stuck. Social service agencies are seeking volunteers willing to shovel driveways and sidewalks to help people get out.

Since Monday, Spokane County has received more than 1,000 calls from people requesting free help the county offered to low-income residents. The county contracts with Geiger Corrections Center work crews to shovel out snow berms and clear approaches to driveways and mailboxes. The crews do not shovel driveways and sidewalks.

The waiting list for help from the corrections crews was two to three days long Wednesday, said county spokeswoman Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter.

The help line works on an honor system, and county workers don’t have time to verify callers’ income levels, Wheatley-Billeter said. She added that she’s discouraged to hear that crews have been called to expensive homes whose owners likely can pay for such services.

“You’re asking all the taxpayers of Spokane County to help clear the approach to your driveway,” she said. “We’re really asking the public to take into consideration who this service is supposed to be provided to, why and how much this is costing.”

The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department has been fielding 10 to 15 calls a day, mostly from senior citizens, requesting shoveling help from work-release crews, Sgt. Penny Haney said.

“There’s some we haven’t been able to get to,” Haney said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

Louise Stamper lives in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood and gets around using a wheelchair and the bus. But she uses an alley for primary access to her wheelchair ramp, and the alley hasn’t been plowed.

“When the snow reaches a certain height, I get stuck,” Stamper said.

Stamper has three sons and a husband to help run her household, and her journalism instructors at Gonzaga University have e-mailed assignments to help her keep up with coursework.

“Before this week, I was having no problem getting around in the snow and ice,” she said. “But this week, it’s way too bad.”

Volunteers flooded the phone lines for Catholic Charities’ Volunteer Chore Services after the agency appeared in a TV news spot Tuesday night. About 100 new volunteers called to help shovel driveways and sidewalks.

“With this bad weather, we are trying very hard today to match volunteers with folks that need snow shoveling,” said Judy Marte, program manager, noting that the program serves low-income seniors and low-income adults with disabilities. “One volunteer is an 80-year-old woman shoveling for clients,” Marte said. “We have students, we have stay-at-home moms. A teacher called and said, ‘I don’t have school today, so I can go and shovel for someone.’ “


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