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Remember the most vulnerable as winter hits hard

EDITORIAL

The Advocate-Messenger

Winter was late getting here, but now it has arrived with a vengeance. It’s important to remember who severe winter weather affects the most: the poorest, most vulnerable members of our community.

Lows tonight will be in the single digits, and they’ll be accompanied by a chance of snow showers. Tomorrow, the high will barely reach the teens, before temps plummet toward zero or even below.

Things don’t get much better on Thursday, when the forecast calls for teen temperatures all day and night. We’ll finally get back above freezing on Friday, as long as the forecast holds true.

For many of us, cold weather means putting on another jacket, blasting the heater in the car and staying inside. There will probably be plenty of posting on social media about how cold it is outside our windows, along with photos of grocery hauls and jokes about “milk sandwiches” if the chances of snow worsen.

But there are also many for whom extreme cold can create real problems. It can even turn deadly.

Low-income community members who already struggle to afford their utility bills can be stretched past their means trying to keep warm. Heating bills get exponentially more expensive the colder it gets.

Those same people also often depend on school to watch their kids while they work; added weather days due to snow or frigid temperatures means they have to find child care or take off work, adding to their expenses or subtracting from their income.

There are also homeless people in our community who can suffer severe health consequences, even death, if they can’t find somewhere to stay warm. Homelessness is usually thought of as an urban problem, largely relegated to bigger cities. But just because there are more homeless people in urban areas doesn’t mean they aren’t here, too.

Fortunately, there are ways we can all help; we can choose to to do something more than post snow memes on Facebook. Just a few ideas to get you started:

• Volunteer with your church or community organization that runs a warming center when temperatures get cold.

• Donate to community assistance organizations that help poor families with utility bills they cannot afford.

• Go through your closet, take out all the coats you don’t wear or can do without and donate them.

• Keep one old, warm coat in the back of your car that you can give away if you come across someone in need (it can also serve to keep you warm if you have a roadside emergency).

• Donate to or volunteer at a local food bank or area homeless shelter.

The bitter cold of winter isn’t fun, but we can all make it a little less painful by looking out for each other and caring for those in need.