Columbus-Area Charities Promote Winter Volunteerism

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Doug Lane helps measure the length of a home that Habitat for Humanity of Greater Columbus is building in Weinland Park. Lane is part of the "Winter Warrior" program the organization began promoting last year to boost winter volunteerism.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)
Doug Lane helps measure the length of a home that Habitat for Humanity of Greater Columbus is building in Weinland Park. Lane is part of the "Winter Warrior" program the organization began promoting last year to boost winter volunteerism.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)

Columbus-area charities always are in need of a helping hand. But some volunteer groups say winter months can be challenging times. WOSU reports this year’s mild winter has helped keep volunteering coming through the doors.

It’s about 45 degrees on a weekday morning as volunteers hammer away at what eventually will be the roof of a garage that’s going up on North 6th Street in Weinland Park.

It’s one a several homes Habitat for Humanity of Greater Columbus is building in the neighborhood.

This winter has been fairly mild, making for a bearable outdoor work environment for volunteers who help groups such as Habitat for Humanity. And the 45- and 55-degree days likely have made it easier for these organizations to meet their volunteer quotas.
Even so, Habitat of Greater Columbus ran television ads promoting their Winter Warriors program last month, and it still has online advertising.

Habitat of Greater Columbus CEO E.J. Thomas said the group started marketing winter volunteerism last year because demand for its homes increased significantly.

“In years gone by when we weren’t building that many houses we could afford to take the winter months off to get ready for the following build season when the weather’s nice. But last year we built 22 homes. And so when you figure you’re building two homes a month you’ve got to have folks out there pretty much year round or you can’t keep up with your build schedule,” Thomas said.

But Thomas said it’s tough to say in the first week of February whether the unseasonably mild temperatures have spurred more volunteers, or if it’s the marketing. So far they’ve attracted about the same number of volunteers as they had by this time last year.

“We’ve got to make these houses happen, and weather is essentially no excuse for the time tables that exist in regard to compliance, with donor dollars and grants that have been applied against the house. So those deadlines are hard deadlines, and we need to make sure that they’re met,” he said.

Doug Lane takes a quick break from measuring the frame of the house. Lane is a veteran Habitat for Humanity volunteer. But this is the first time he’s worked when it’s cold.

“This has been a pretty nice winter actually to work…the weather’s really not that bad. We try to keep warm, dress warm, everything like that. And when you’re working you start sweating a little actually so you don’t get that cold,” Lane said.

Habitat for Humanity isn’t the only local charitable group that requires volunteers to be out in the elements.

Life Care Alliance provides the Meals on Wheels service in Central Ohio. President and CEO Chuck Gehring said there’s a noticeable drop off of volunteers during winter.

“Because many of our volunteers are retirees themselves, and they feel it could be a falls risk if they’re walking into a house in the snow. Most of our clients cannot in any way, shape or form clean off their driveways or sidewalks,” Gehring said.

And Gehring said there are a few times a year when he worries whether there will be enough staff to deliver the food. And that almost always occurs during winter months.

“The worst day or days for us each year are days when it’s snowy and icy out…we will of course have a few volunteers, who are elderly themselves, call off that day unable to do it. So we are on those days really scrambling. And we have had a few days since I’ve been here where the staff here at Life Care Alliance have gone out and covered every route we didn’t have covered that day,” he said.

To help fill the gaps, Life Care Alliance has an Adopt-A-Route program where employees from area companies deliver meals during their lunch hour.

“With 95 companies we are number one in the United States with the most company days covered…so that helps tremendously in getting the meals out,” Gehring said.

With just a month left until spring, volunteer organizations hope the mild winter continues to make their jobs a little bit easier.

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