Sunday, August 01, 1999

Volunteers help out in hot times

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dan Toole, a nurse with the Cincinnati Health Department, had a credit card and wanted to help people suffering from the heat.

        Ed Engel, co-owner of a cooling and heating company, had in-demand skills and knew he could make a difference.

        Virginia DeRossett, 81, had three used window air conditioners and felt bad for people doing without.

        Candice Printup and Jessica Helms, both teen-agers, had some time on their hands and wanted to pitch in.

        Throughout the Tristate, even as the count of heat-related deaths has reached at least 12, hundreds are reaching out to help the most vulnerable during the heat emergency.

        Some people are reaching beyond their jobs as public health nurses and social workers, buying fans with their own money and often delivering them on their own time.

        Other people are volunteering, coming forward the way they did after floods and tornadoes.

        Health officials, including Cincinnati Health Commissioner Dr. Malcolm Adcock, have urged neighbors to keep tabs on neighbors.

        “We're appealing for people to look in on the community,” he said.

        Many people are doing just that.

        Early in the week, Dan Toole visited an elderly Over-the-Rhine woman, who lived in an apartment without air conditioning or fans.

        So he went out and bought her an oscillating fan. The next day, when he visited her, she said the fan was too big and she didn't want it. Mr. Toole put it back in his car and continued his rounds.

        Later that day, he visited a woman in the West End, Martha Minter, a 40-year-old mother of three, to change the surgical dressing on her arm. She has no air conditioning in her apartment and had only a small, used fan.

        He offered her the new fan. She accepted.

        “We've been doing better,” said Ms. Minter, who keeps the fan in the living room during the day and the sleeping area at night. “I know somebody cares.”

        The fan Mr. Toole gave to Ms. Minter isn't the only one Mr. Toole has bought in the past 10 days. Exactly how many he won't say.

        “My wife won't know what I've done until all these fans pop up on my Visa bill,” he said.

        Ed Engel, co-owner of Pearce-Engel Heating & Cooling, could make more money this time of year if he didn't bother helping out a local non-profit group that organizes and performs home improvements for low-income and disabled homeowners.

        Still, this week, there he and one of his employees were, doing a reduced-rate job on the broken air conditioning system in the home of a diabetic and disabled Forest Park man.

        “When we get into some of these houses, the temperature is 95-100 degrees,” said Mr. Engel, whose Bevis company has worked two years with the organization People Working Cooperatively (PWC).

        One of PWC's services is a weatherization program.

        “You feel good about doing something like this,” Mr. Engel said.

        His company, like other subcontractors, is compensated by PWC but not at the rate he receives from private customers.

        This week in Forest Park, Mr. Engel replaced the blower in the furnace belonging Robert Davis, 42. Mr. Engel also tested the electrical charge on the fan outside.

        Mr. Davis has diabetes and lives on disability checks, the result of back and arm injuries he suffered as a factory worker. He has struggled to sleep in the heat. He has stayed with his mother in her air conditioned Walnut Hills apartment. He was watching television, with two fans blowing hot air on him, the morning Mr. Engel came to fix his unit.

        “I appreciate everything PWC does,” Mr. Davis said. “It has built up on me as the days have gone by. I have been dizzy, irritable and nauseous. This will be a great comfort to me.”

        Last year, as a gift, Virginia DeRossett's three children put central air in the Highland Heights, Ky., house that's been her home since 1952.

        Three window units became expendable. Mrs. DeRossett, 81, could have sold them but decided to donate them to Brighton Center. The Newport-based social service agency has been distributing fans and air conditioners — in short supply — throughout the heat wave.

        “They weren't brand new, but they worked,” she said. “I'm glad they are being put to good use. I know I am certainly enjoying my air conditioning this summer.”

        One of her air conditioners went to a family with children who have asthma.

        Brighton Center has a long waiting list for air conditioners, said Jennifer Griola, family support coordinator. Residents have responded to the center's call for donations of cash, fans and air conditioners.

        Cash donations of $1,500 allowed Ms. Griola to purchase 10 air conditioners last week.

        “There are no air conditioners left in town,” she said.

        But there are fans. And low-income households can receive a fan on a first-come, first-serve basis, she said.

        Alexandria United Methodist Church donated seven new fans this week to Brighton Center.

        Candice Printup, a 1999 graduate of Hamilton High School, has worked as a volunteer for Butler County's community action agency since June to raise money to buy school supplies for needy children.

        This week, she volunteered to help out in another, more urgent program at the agency, called SELF (Supports to Encourage Low-income Families).

        SELF received $66,000 in federal money from Ohio Gov. Bob Taft on Monday to use to distribute vouchers for air conditioners and fans to people earning less than 150 percent of the poverty level.

        Miss Printup helps by working the phones. Each day this past week, she took calls from stressed, tired people seeking relief.

        “One day, I took calls and explained to people how the program worked,” said Miss Printup, who will attend Miami University-Hamilton this fall. “Another day I called back more than 300 people.

        Last Sunday night at Griffiss Air Base in upstate New York, Jennifer Helms watched the Woodstock '99 music festival end in a blaze of looting and bonfires.

        On Monday, the 19-year-old Milford woman came home to another type of inferno.

        Her mother, Anne Marie Helms, is a social worker with Cincinnati Area Senior Services and visits shut-ins.

        Mrs. Helms had a long, busy week because of the heat emergency, and Friday afternoon, she asked her daughter for some help. An 89-year-old client from Walnut Hills was new to the food stamp program and could not leave her apartment in the heat to attend a mandatory orientation meeting.

        So Mrs. Helms asked her daughter to go with her to the woman's apartment, pick up her identification and a permission slip and attend the meeting for her at the Hamilton County Department of Human Services.

        “She's frail, has shortness of breath,” Mrs. Helms said. “She stays in because she does have air conditioning. Jennifer could go and take notes. That way, we could get the woman some food.”

        The woman couldn't receive food stamps until she attended the meeting.

        “It sounded like something I could do to help out,” Miss Helms said, “and I accepted willingly.”


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