‘Snow Brigade’ comes through

January 14

A little citizen initiative goes a long way.

Judy Nelson finally managed to spring her car out of snow prison Monday, after 12 or 13 days of confinement. She celebrated by driving to the gym for a workout.

But when her car first got buried, Nelson felt a little helpless. Looking around, she knew that other people must be in the same condition.

“I knew if I was snowbound there had to be others,” she said. “There didn’t seem to be any kind of system to help them.”

She started calling around, but the various offices — including the City of Hood River, Chamber of Commerce, Red Cross, and Sprint — were either closed or had no suggestions. The sheriff’s office suggested using Columbia Area Transit, but it wasn’t running either.

That really wasn’t what she was looking for anyway — she didn’t really know what she was looking for, but she knew there had to be some way to help those who, for physical or other reasons, were in need because of the snow.

“It was just a really unique situation,” she said.

Things started to come together when Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital offered the use of a board room and a few phones. Nelson’s son, a fireman, suggested she contact the fire department, which put her in touch with Jeff Walker, assistant fire chief.

“Jeff Walker really came through,” she said. “He sent an announcement over the department’s system and soon we were flooded with volunteers.”

To get the word out, KIHR ran some radio spots for the project, which by now had been dubbed the Snow Brigade. There was immediate response, and Nelson realized she was going to need help on the phones. KIHR ran another announcement seeking phone volunteers and soon she and her four or five helpers, including two hospital staffers, were taking calls from those in need and matching them with the volunteers, keeping track of them on 3-by-5 index cards.

“The ones with a green streak were volunteers, and plain ones were for someone in need,” she said. In the few days the Snow Brigade was in action, about 25 households were helped.

“Probably the most critical one was a family over outside of Mosier,” Nelson said. “They were all sick, needed medication, and they were out of everything — out of food, out of dog food, pig food, chicken feed, everything. And they couldn’t even get to the woodpile to get wood for the stove so they had no heat.”

Mosier fire chief Dan Garcia gathered a few helpers and one of them went on a shopping trip for food and feed and medication.

Most of the people needing help were elderly and many were out of medication or groceries or had frozen pipes or other damage from the storm.

“One of the things I found out was that people are reluctant to ask for help,” Nelson said. “What I also saw was that in times of stress people are sometimes not able to make decisions and need someone else to come in and do that. We were also able to offer them some comforting and reassurance that help was on the way.

“For the most part people do take care of each other, but when the weather’s bad they lose their connections,” she said. “There was a state of emergency — was there something that should have kicked in? We need some kind of system — people helping people, volunteer brigade, whatever — because the fire department doesn’t need those kinds of calls.”

The Snow Brigade disbanded when the sun came out and the calls tapered off, and Nelson forwarded any further calls to her home line.

“I got a call this afternoon, an 80-year-old lady who wanted her driveway shoveled out,” she said.

“What I would like is for this to be an encouragement to others — it was just an idea, and it didn’t even come to me until Wednesday (Jan. 7),” Nelson said. “People who believed in it made it happen. I really can’t thank the hospital, KIHR, Jeff Walker, Chris Nelson and all the volunteers enough.”

“All you need is a telephone and some 3-by-5s,” she laughed.

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