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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Adam Bridges voluntarily digs out a home on East State Boulevard on Tuesday. Snow Angels matches people who need help shoveling with those able to do so.

Volunteers are city’s shoveling angels

– Last November, Angel Ward started pondering the same thing most people ponder as winter approaches: the snow.

She can’t shovel the snow, she says, but she has a husband who can.

What about the people who can’t do the job because they’re old or sick or they have babies to take care of, and they have no one to help out?

So Angel started rounding up a handful of volunteers and started an organization called Allen County Snow Angels through Facebook.

The concept was simple. People who needed their sidewalks or walks shoveled or their mailbox dug out could go to the site and ask for help. Then, the better-natured among us could go to the site and, if someone nearby needed help, could step forward.

Ward knew there were some risks involved in a system like this. “We live in a very dangerous time,” she said in her mission statement.

So she pointed out that people looking for help should realize they were dealing with strangers and to be cautious, and she reminded them that there was no need for personal interaction. The person offering to shovel their drive wasn’t looking for profuse thanks or payment. They would just do the job and leave.

One of the volunteers Ward found was Adam Bridges.

Bridges said he didn’t have the faintest idea who Ward was or why she contacted him about volunteering. It turned out that they had a mutual friend and went to the same church.

With a core of volunteers, the site went live, and so far, it’s been working. People have gone online asking for help, and volunteers have come forward.

“I’m just as surprised as you are,” Ward said. “Who wants to shovel their own driveway, much less a stranger’s drive?”

There are people like that out there.

People like Bridges.

“I’m good enough. I’m healthy enough,” Bridges said. “I heard about it, and I started helping” when it snowed six or seven inches after Thanksgiving.

On Tuesday, for example, someone had posted on the Snow Angels site that a mailbox needed to be dug out. He showed up, dug it out and left.

“Some people, the people come out and say hi and give them hot chocolate and talk,” Bridges said. “I’m more introverted. I show up, get it done and leave.”

People who need help and volunteers actually exchange information through personal messages. No one’s address is posted on the Facebook page. Instead, a volunteer sends a personal message offering to do the job, and once the job is done, the person needing help can let people know that the job had been done.

Some volunteers and people needing help have actually developed relationships of sorts.

Early on, a person asked for help, and an anonymous volunteer showed up and shoveled the drive. Later, when it snowed again, someone showed up without being asked and shoveled the drive again.

Nobody knows who did it, Ward says, but it is assumed that whoever shoveled the drive the first time came back when it snowed again, knowing the person would need help again.

Ward’s hope is that the site and the program will become self-sustaining, with enough volunteers to quickly take care of people who need help.

You might have to wait sometimes. One man who had volunteered to help out a couple of people had to back out Tuesday. It was just too cold, he said; he couldn’t take it.

The Fort Wayne police hadn’t heard about Snow Angels, but Officer John Chambers, the public information officer, had some understandable concerns about the possibility of people putting personal information such as addresses on social media.

When he learned, though, that people interact through personal messages and that people were warned that they were dealing with strangers and told that there was no need for personal interaction, he was pleased.

“It definitely could be a great idea and a great service,” Chambers said. “With the weather conditions like they’ve been, it’s a wonderful idea.”

The downside is that people can create copycat operations with less-than-honorable motives, Chambers said.

But if people can stay locked inside their homes and say their thanks on Facebook, that offers some protection.