MILFORD, Conn. — Between storms, a builder in Connecticut uses his skid loader to plow his neighbors’ driveways. In Maryland, a good Samaritan hands out water and M&Ms to stranded drivers. The mayor of Philadelphia urges residents to “be kind” and help one another out — and they respond by doing just that.
Across the Northeast, full of large cities where people wear their brusqueness like a badge of honor, neighbors and even strangers are banding together to beat back what’s shaping up to be one of the most brutal winters in years — and it appears to be contagious.
“It seems to have started a whole grass-roots movement of people helping one another,” said Cindy Twiss, a school administrator who lives in Milford.
She’s among the lucky neighbors of Danny Blanchet, the builder who uses his 7,500-pound yellow “skitsteer” to plow Twiss and others out in mere minutes for jobs that would take their shovels hours to complete.
“Last storm I did 35 people,” Blanchet said, beaming and decked out in sunglasses and a sweater knitted by his sister. “I just happen to have a bigger shovel than they do. This is a joy for me.”
After Blanchet starting showing up with his loader, Twiss said, other neighbors began pitching in. A 14-year-old boy showed up to shovel and refused to take any money. Her next-door neighbor did the whole block with his snow blower.
It’s true that this winter’s frequent storms — some areas of the East are on track for record snowfalls — may be leading neighbors to interact more and help one another cope, said Lauren Ross, an assistant professor of sociology at Quinnipiac University.
“Because there is this need, people are really stepping up,” Ross said. “They become people you can empathize with. It’s sort of this collective pattern we’re experiencing.”
Ross said she experienced it herself when she left her condo to dig out her car and neighbors quickly showed up to help. That led her to help other neighbors, too.
Kevin Writt, of Knoxville, Md., had a similar experience.
He distributed at least 50 bottles of water and 40 packs of M&Ms to motorists who waited hours to cross the U.S. 340 bridge over the Potomac River into Virginia on Wednesday night. Writt — who got the goods from the retail shop at nearby River & Trails Outfitters, where he works as a guide — called it karma.
“Earlier that night, I was helped out of the snow myself by a plow driver for the Maryland State Highway Administration,” he said. “It was really just an exercise in empathy.”
Shervonne Cherry, creative director at a technology company, said she ran into a six-hour nightmare on Interstate 695 because of an accident ahead of her after leaving work around 5:45 p.m. Wednesday for home in Baltimore.
“People were pretty nice,” Cherry said. “There was a group of gentlemen who were making sure that people weren’t getting stuck, making sure that all the cars were progressing.”
David Papagallo, the landlord of two four-story buildings on busy Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, said he started shoveling the front sidewalk at 7 a.m. Thursday after 19 inches of snow fell on the city. Building owners are required to keep the sidewalks clear, but he took extra pains and was still at it at 10 a.m.
“I do the corners, too, because I don’t want people to walk around the moat,” Papagallo said. “I do it for myself, but I do it for the smiles.”
The City of Brotherly Love, where football fans famously booed Santa Claus and threw snowballs at him during a game in 1968, was not immune to post-storm kindnesses.
“The main message of the day is be careful, be kind, look out for other people,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said after 17 inches of snow fell on the city Thursday. And in at least a few neighborhoods they were taking his advice to heart.
“We all kind of work together when it comes to snow,” said Amy Sweeney, 37, a mom who lives in the Northern Liberties neighborhood, attends community college and works part-time at the Electric Factory music venue.
She was shoveling in front of several homes, including that of an older neighbor. She planned to dig out three or four parking spots, then shovel the other side of the block.
Dan McVay, a 37-year-old social worker, cleared the sidewalks of about a half-dozen neighbors by his south Philadelphia rowhouse: someone with a bad back, a neighbor known for shoveling other people’s sidewalks, and several homebound, elderly or disabled people.
“It’s important that you have a good relationship with them; you share walls and you see them almost every day,” McVay said. “It’s a good thing to do. It’s a good thing to make sure that your neighbors are OK. It’s kind of karma — it comes back around in ways that you might not expect it.”
In New Jersey, Newark Mayor Cory Booker helped residents dig out cars a month after he won rave reviews from constituents for similar efforts after the post-Christmas blizzard that crippled the region.
Lakeesha Paylor was on her way to dig her own car out when the mayor persuaded her to join forces with him and others in the same predicament, arguing that if the strangers worked together, they could do less work and get more done. Paylor pitched in and helped dig out three cars before the group helped her free her vehicle from a mound of snow.
“I really appreciate it because we were really stuck,” Paylor said.
Jasmine Ingram was also among those who got their cars dug out by the mayor and his helpers.
“It was very nice,” Ingram said. “I didn’t expect it, so it was shocking.”