- Associated Press - Sunday, January 30, 2011

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 “skid steer” to plow Miss Twiss and others out in mere minutes for jobs that would take their shovels hours to complete.

“Last storm, I did 35 people,” Mr. 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 Mr. Blanchet starting showing up with his loader, Miss Twiss said, other neighbors began pitching in. A 14-year-old boy showed up to shovel and refused to take any money. Miss Twiss’ 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,” Miss Ross said. “They become people you can empathize with. It’s sort of this collective pattern we’re experiencing.”

Miss 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. Mr. 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,” Miss 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,” he 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 took 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.

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