Randy McDonald knows a little extra help can go a long way these days.
The Sarnia firefighter is a shoveller with the city’s Adopt-a-Driveway program, which means when the snow flies he and other volunteers clear driveways and sidewalks for seniors and people living with disabilities.
“I know they appreciate it,” said McDonald, who helped enlist backup from five more firefighters when he learned the program was short on help.
“I put the word out to the guys on my shift and put our names forward to see how we can help. Between the group of us, we cover two different driveways, so it’s worked out really well.”
Volunteers are asked to attend their matched homes whenever about 3 centimetres (1.2 inches) of snow falls from December to April. The firefighters went out four times in January.
“We’re not always able to get there right away, but at the end of our shifts we’ll be there at 7 a.m. to get it done,” McDonald said.
This is the third year for Sarnia’s Adopt-a-Driveway Program, in partnership with Lambton Elderly Outreach (LEO). It’s funded by a one-time grant with the Royal Bank of Canada through the Sarnia Community Foundation, and the province of Ontario’s New Horizons grant.
“The need in the community is so large,” said Amy Weiler, LEO’s Community Engagement Specialist, who matches residents who require snow clearing with the volunteers.
About 25 homes are covered this year.
“We were prepared to take up to 40 homes, but we needed to balance that with the number of volunteers that we got.”
Only ten to 15 volunteers are active with the program this year, in addition to the six firefighters, who include Brian Secord, Austin Noble, Sam McCormack, Dave Lyon and Roy Eddleston.
“We’ve created a sustainable model now, and I guess the biggest need for the program to keep it rolling is volunteers,” Weiler said. “We hope more people can get on board as we plan ahead for next year.”
Cleared pathways and steps are crucial to those residents who struggle to leave home for appointments, or require in-home service providers to access the home safely.
And for many, it’s not easy to ask for help, she added.
“It’s something that’s really hard to admit — that you need help or you can’t do something anymore,” she said. “With the aging population, we’re always going to need services to help people as they transition into giving up some of the work around the house.
“It’s more than clearing snow; more than just a driveway. There’s a person in that home who really needs help.”
McDonald said that while he hasn’t met the residents at the homes he’s assigned to, he’s happy to know they’re waking up to a freshly cleared driveway this winter.
“We’re all getting older and we’re all going to need a little help in the future,” he said. “So maybe now’s the time to start paying it forward.”
Anyone interested in volunteering for the Adopt-a-Driveway program in 2022-23 can contact [email protected]