Extremely cold weather can have extreme consequences.
Most Iowans have internalized the common recommendations to dress in layers and keep pets inside, but there are other threats many of us have never had to worry about.
For people living in poverty, the polar vortex can lead to dire circumstances. We are reminded of the need to support government programs and private organizations serving our most vulnerable neighbors.
With air temperature dipping below zero — and wind chills feeling much lower than that — many Eastern Iowa school districts canceled classes multiple times last week and this week. While that helps keep children safe from the hazardous conditions outside, it also keeps them away from the nutritious school meals many kids rely on.
When school is out during the summer, some neighborhoods set up meal programs to meet the need. Those same programs are not in place for unexpected winter cancellations, so we were relieved to see several local schools step up this month, with staffers and volunteers assembling bags of food for students to take home.
This is part of a broader trend of schools collaborating with food pantries and other community organizations to battle hunger among students. Those organizations, like the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, deserve the community’s support.
Another burden imposed by the frigid weather may be temporarily delayed, but is serious nonetheless. Furnaces on full blast for days at a time could generate significant spikes in home heating costs, throwing fixed-income families’ budgets out of whack, and setting off a chain reaction that leaves them unable to cover other basic expenses.
While utility providers are forbidden by law from shutting off service during the winter, that moratorium ends in April.
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Residents who don’t pay their accounts by that time could lose electricity, which could eventually lead to eviction for renters.
There are some local efforts to help families cover utility costs during emergencies, but they are inadequate to meet all the needs, especially following extreme winter weather. To fill the gap, it’s important for those who are able to support programs doing this work, like the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program.
Countless other individuals and organizations are offering creative solutions to help Iowans stay safe during the cold snap. Libraries, churches and other community centers are opening their doors to keep people warm, organizing transportation and checking on isolated people, like elderly and disabled neighbors.
There are many others, too many to count, who help Iowans respond to emergencies throughout the year. Our community is stronger for it.
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