By: Julie Trone, Verna Frasca
Severe Winter Weather – How to Deal with the Storm
The Gender-equal Climate Action Committee is launching its first Think Tank presentation, ‘Severe Winter Weather – How to Deal with the Storm’ of this 2023/24 Zonta year in early November. In alignment with Zonta International and the Zonta Says NOW campaign the focus will be on disaster preparedness, adapting to severe weather patterns, and the problems that arise for women and girls.
Winter weather varies around the U.S., yet every region experiences some form of cold, frost, freezing precipitation, snow, and/or ice. In the southern region cold and frost can destroy the orange harvest and disrupt daily life, in the northeast blizzards, ice storms, and nor’easters are more frequent and intense, the mid-west and the west also experience intense storms, wind, and sub-zero temperatures. In Denver last year temperatures at night dipped below -20.
So why does this matter to Zontians?
Your communities deal with the storm as ‘best as possible’ right? The answer may not be right. The news may cover the storm but often what is not mentioned is the safety of specific populations during severe winter weather.
Who are the ignored populations? Women, children, the elderly, and the homeless are the most affected and here’s why:
- Single and/or low-income women have to get children to school and arrive at work on time. Often, they are told they will be fired if they do not show up to work. If the community has not taken measures to clear sidewalks and bus stops along with street plowing this affects their livelihood. If school is out who watches the children if these women need to work? What if the power is out in their neighborhood? What if the pipes freeze and burst causing damage inside the home? This further causes suffering and a safety issue.
- Children missing school means a parent or caregiver is required unless there are older children in the house. What if these children rely on school breakfast and lunch for their only meal(s) of the day? If the power goes out, they cannot warm or cook food nor stay warm. Some extreme storms knock out cell towers as well thus emergency communication is not available.
- The elderly are vulnerable due to their age and ability. They have the same needs as noted above. However, all of these populations, particularly the elderly, rely on therapeutic assistance, home health care, prescription medications, and food preparation assistance. When an elderly person is at home alone, they are vulnerable similar to the vulnerabilities expressed above.
- The homeless are vulnerable because they are exposed to the elements even if living in a car. The community may not know where every homeless person is sleeping thus cannot house them in safe, warm shelters or provide warm clothing and blankets if they do not want to go to a shelter. Often the warning systems in place do not reach the homeless, rather community members working with them have to find them and alert them in-person because they do not receive the alerts about impending storms. It is important to point out that students of all ages can be homeless and still try to attend classes.
As Zontians what advocacy or service projects can you brainstorm to make a difference prior to the start of winter?
What questions can you ask your local officials, food bank management, partnering organizations who work with the elderly, the homeless, and single-family households? We truly can make a difference in the lives of women and girls by investigating our community’s response and management of weather disasters and intense storms, figuring out what services are missing and advocating or providing service to fill in the gaps.
Case in point, the Center for Disease Control has winter weather disaster information to learn how to stay safe during winter storms on their website, click on Disaster Evacuation on the left hand menu on their page. Here you will see an article on how to add diaper changing stations in evacuation shelters. There is no mention of collecting and storing feminine hygiene products for women and girls, products or privacy for nursing mothers, and products such as Depends for the elderly. There is no mention how to ensure safety for women and girls in shelters after a disaster. In an effort to improve their site with this critical information we advocated directly to the CDC and are awaiting their answer. This is advocacy and it took 20 minutes including reading the webpage and sending an email. Can you incorporate this type of advocacy in your advocacy plan?
We hope you will attend the Think Tank in November. Our guest speaker, Melissa Veneble, is an Executive Director for the Red Cross in Northern Colorado who will address severe winter weather and answer your questions about safety, vulnerability, and preparedness. Afterwards visit this blog to find a recap blog post which will cover service and advocacy projects that Zontians can do in their local community.
- Prior to an approaching storm reach out to the local senior center to learn if there are seniors who need transportation to pick up prescriptions early, nonperishable food to eat, and hygiene products such as Depends, soap, bandages, and over-the-counter medications.
- Coordinate a multi-product feminine hygiene, baby food, diaper drive prior to a storm for the local food bank, high schools, and community colleges to help low income and/or single moms with provisions during the storm.
- Ask your local newspaper to run a story about how to stay safe if the power and heat go out and distribute the papers to those who need to learn this information the most.
All of these service and advocacy projects help your communities adapt to more frequent and intense weather. Be safe, be the change in your community, and be proud of your efforts as Zontians.
Save the date: Sunday, November 5, 2023 Zonta USA Caucus Think Tank ‘Severe Winter Weather: How to Deal with the Storm. 6pm Eastern / 4pm Mountain / 3pm Pacific. Sign up here with Zonta International to register for the Zoom call.Sign up for Zoom link