Neighbors Pitch In With “Shovel Brigades”

Bill Kurtz PhotoWhen piles of snow from Winter Storm Nemo blocked the vents on Jessica Bergman’s Willow Street home, shutting off her heat Monday, David Streever and an emergency shovel team swung into action.

The rescue team assembled Monday morning, as the Winter Storm Nemo aftermath entered a treacherous phase of rain and ice.

“One of our neighbors is snowed in,” wrote Streever on Facebook around 10 a.m. Monday. “Her heat vents were covered by the neighbors’ driveway cleaning service. Their house is at 49 [degrees]!!!! and the heat won’t turn on. Can you lend a shoveling hand?”

“On my way,” wrote neighbor Katy MacRae.

“I’ll be over as soon as I suit up,” wrote Justin Haaheim.

A crew of neighbors showed up with shovels to Bergman’s house. Two hours later, she wrote in with “A HUGE thank you” to the crew “for fixing my heat!”

The response in East Rock was indicative of a trend around town: Neighbors are taking it upon themselves to help each other out. Despite the problems caused by the blizzard and the continuing difficulties with clearing out 34 inches of snow, people from Edgewood to East Rock to the Hill reported an unleashed sense of community. At least until it started raining Monday, kids were playing in the streets, neighbors were giving each other ATV rides and pushing cars out of snow traps, and people stranded from work or play elsewhere in town improvised community gatherings. Including possibly the first-ever New Haven “snow couch” happy hour.

At a press conference in Newhallville Monday, Police Chief Dean Esserman repeatedly thanked neighbors across town for helping each other out since the storm—and for pushing free marooned cop cruisers (as well as Esserman’s own vehicle on Sunday).

In the Hill, 20 neighbors teamed up to clear out parts of Truman Street and King Place in the absence of city plows. In Dwight, neighbors cleared horseshoe-shaped University Place by “people power,” according to SeeClickFix, the online problem-solving site that some have turned to for informal storm response.

Over the weekend, East Rock neighbors formed various “shovel brigades.” One, convened by Alderman Justin Elicker, met Sunday morning at Lulu’s coffee shop. Alderwoman Jessica Holmes convened another. So did Ben Berkowitz (founder of SeeClickFix and a neighborhood activist).

Ben Berkowitz PhotoBerkowitz and J.R. Logan spent a good part of the day walking the streets of East Rock as “blockheads” (pictured), with shovels tucked behind their heads, inside their hooded sweatshirts, offering help to neighbors.

Lisa Seidlarz PhotoThey combined muscle with a group of volunteer shovelers in SoHu (the neighborhood south of Humphrey). Together, they uncovered Paul Broniek’s pickup truck and then the car of another neighbor whose husband passed away unexpectedly last month, according to SoHu block watch leader Lisa Siedlarz.

After their work was done, East Rockers found new ways to celebrate.

Caleb Smith and Jennifer Mellon PhotoWhen Archie Moore’s was closed Saturday, Goatville neighbors moved happy hour ... to the snow bank at Canner and Anderson. There, architect Dave Coon built a “snow couch.” He invited neighbors over to gather around a grill for hot dogs, hot chocolate, and bourbon mixed with fresh snow.

Dave Coon PhotoTanya Wiedeking, who attended Coon’s happy hour Saturday, got inspired to build her own “snow couch” on Avon Street.

“Dave started a movement,” she said.

Wiedeking hosted a happy hour Sunday with mulled wine.

Good cheer continued throughout the weekend. Orange Street, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, turned into a grand pedestrian promenade beginning Friday night, when people streamed into the streets to romp in the snow. Past midnight, people were walking around in snowshoes and hiking boots, some with open beers. One man puffed on a celebratory cigar.

Justin Haaheim/ PhotoIn the daytime, families passed through with dogs and sleds. Strangers who might usually not acknowledge each other stopped to chat.

Justin Haaheim/ PhotoSaturday, East Rockers packed down paths in the middle of unplowed streets with snow boots, sleds and skis.

Justin Haaheim/ PhotoSome played football in the street…

Justin Haaheim/ Photo... and jumped in banks of snow.

Click here for more of Haaheim’s Nemo photos. And tell us about your own neighborhood community response to the storm in the comments section below.


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posted by: HewNaven on February 11, 2013  4:43pm

Oh, good. Shovel out those cars so they can take the streets back. I’m so happy. </s>

posted by: PatWallace, Director of Elderly Services on February 11, 2013  4:47pm

There are older adults or people with disabilities in the City that need help digging out.  Right now I am looking for someone in the Fountain Street area and someone in the Roosevelt Street area.  People need help opening doors, clearing a shovel-wide path for a fuel delivery, or clearing a driveway.  Help from neighbors would be great, but if people need to be paid I’d like to hear from you too.  Please e-mail or call.  Thanks.
Pat Wallace .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 203-982-1388

posted by: robn on February 11, 2013  11:35pm

gotta admit…there was a really good vibe.

posted by: HhE on February 12, 2013  1:39am

How dare these East Rock elites team up to help each other, and enjoy this snow.  Have they no shame?

posted by: anon15 on February 12, 2013  4:54pm

It’s great to see so many neighbors out helping each other.  I just saw our alderperson Jessica Holmes back out again with a crew of volunteers shoveling messy sidewalks and clearing storm drains in our neighborhood.  THANK YOU!

posted by: Bditman on February 14, 2013  4:10pm

This was already the greatest small city in America pre-nemo but, after the outpouring of good citizenship, community, fun, and hard work I saw all weekend, I can’t imagine being more proud to live here.  I’m not in east rock but downtown and Wooster square benefited from random acts of awesomeness, as well.  Whether it was an ad hoc squad of volunteers digging out stranded cars from the middle of streets, strangers towing strangers to safety or downtown’s alderman, Doug Hausladen,making sidewalks safe for passage, YOU ALL ROCK.