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Toronto group helps snow-bound seniors

BY GEORGE PIPER | TORONTO | January 16, 1999

TORONTO (Jan. 16, 1999) -- Slightly warmer temperatures in western New York and

southeastern Ontario this weekend may help local governments clear some of

the record-braking snowfall that has accumulated since Jan. 1.

Snowfall totals in excess of 40 inches are common across the region, with a

high of 75 inches -- more than six feet -- reported in Watertown, N.Y. The

accumulated flakes are blamed for roof collapse at several structures,

including factories and barns but no related injuries have been reported.

Seemingly-unending blizzards brought Toronto to a virtual standstill this

week as Canada's largest city experienced 44 inches of the white stuff in

two weeks.

Public transportation ran spotty schedules, and military personnel helped

clear city streets.

Of bigger concern to David Kelly, deputy executive director of Senior Link,

a Toronto-based seniors advocacy group, was whether older Toronto citizens

were eating and staying warm. The worry heightened after the local Meals on

Wheels program experienced difficulties in getting food out to its clients.

The 23-year-old organization stepped in to deliver 60 to 80 meals to

seniors. Utilizing a

core of staff and volunteers, Senior Link made extra food at its community

dinner for low-income seniors and used that to get meals to people. Loading

up vans, volunteers traveled the main streets, stopped at intersections and

would run the food to residents located on snow-covered sidestreets.

"We were one of the few agencies still delivering and providing services,"

said Kelly, adding that the city referred assistance calls to Senior Link.

In addition to food, Senior Link volunteers shoveled snow for the elderly

and transported some to medical appointments.

Kelly said the community came together to support one another -- especially

the older citizens.

"We found that people were very responsive to their concerns and were

checking on their neighbors," he said. "That's very important to do in this

kind of weather."

With a staff of 70 people and a budget of $9.5 million, Senior

Link focuses primarily on helping some 1,800 Toronto seniors live out their

years independently and in dignity. But its work during snow emergency

helped the organization recognize its importance in serious times of need.

"The staff realizes they're working at an agency that could respond to a

natural disaster," Kelly said.

At least six western New York counties hope for a federal disaster

declaration to help cover snow removal costs, said Jim Volkosh, fire

coordinator/director of emergency services for Niagara County, N.Y. Roads

remain passable, but several two-lane roads are down to one open lane and

huge mounds of snow are piled at intersections.

A predicted thaw worries Volkosh because it will make the snow heavier on

rooftops. Niagara County reported eight roof collapses so far to commercial

and farm buildings. While more snow is a concern in the short term, the

more serious problem may be flooding from melting snow. Volkosh said

flooding is common in the Buffalo area, with severe situations occurring if

a lot of snow melts at once.

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