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VOLUNTEERS SOUGHT TO CLEAR AWAY SNOW

Wanted: An army of volunteer "snow angels" who would hit the streets on snowy days to shovel sidewalks for the frail elderly.

As part of a crusade to make Buffalo more walkable this winter, Red Cross officials, city planners and pedestrian advocates hope to expand a program that helps senior citizens remain in their homes. The project assigns volunteers to help elderly residents with everything from yard work and handyman services, to pet care and social visits.

At a City Hall meeting this week, officials said they want to include the program in what some hope will be a citywide assault on snow-clogged sidewalks.

Other strategies under study include mailing reminders to every homeowner and business in the city that they have a legal obligation to shovel. The brochures would be included in user fee or water bills, and even might tout the health benefits of shoveling. Justin S. Booth, of the Wellness Institute for Greater Buffalo and Western New York, said people can burn off a lot of calories by keeping their sidewalks snow-free.

The most controversial component of the get-out-and-shovel campaign involves a push by pedestrian advocates for more aggressive enforcement of Buffalo's shoveling law. Bill Durfee, a leader of the Citizens' Streets and Public Works Task Group, insists enforcers could bring in a blizzard of money by slapping offenders with tickets. Fines can range from $30 to $105, depending on how many violations occur.

Frustrated pedestrians don't want to hear the "same lame excuses" they've heard for years -- that it's impossible to target all violators, Durfee said. He said enforcers don't have to be everywhere to get results.

"You don't need to ticket every (speeding) motorist on the highway to get compliance," he said. "The (Internal Revenue Service) doesn't have to audit every single return."

Any time beefing up enforcement has been discussed, some have raised fears that elderly and disabled residents might be hurt the most. Based on these concerns, officials are studying the feasibility of expanding the Red Cross' project.

Initiated in 2002, the program serves some frail elderly residents on the East and West sides, and in part of Cheektowaga. Services, including winter shoveling, have been provided to more than 300 senior citizens. The Red Cross has recruited young people and adults from various arenas, including a few schools, community-based groups and churches. Minors are always supervised by adult volunteers.

Expanding the program as part of Buffalo's shoveling enforcement blitz probably would require the city to come up with money, perhaps for supervision or to augment the volunteers with seasonal workers, officials acknowledged. Finding such funding can be problematic, said Chuck Thomas, the city's deputy director of planning who presided over the brainstorming session.

"But clearly, the level of interest on this issue is pretty high in the mayor's office," he said.

Carrie Christie, the program's recruiter and trainer, encouraged people who are interested in volunteering to call her at 878-2378.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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