Last week, my friend Ellie and I got ready to go out for the evening.
With coats zipped and hoods up, we just needed one more thing — a shovel.
We are Yetis — volunteers for Snowcrew.org, a mobile web-optimized app that connects New Haven residents who need help shoveling with people who want to volunteer. For some individuals in New Haven, snowstorms can mean being trapped inside their homes unable to travel to work, to the pharmacy or to the supermarket. They may remain isolated for days, compromising their health and safety. Snowcrew.org helps those who are not physically able to shovel or can’t afford to hire a service to dig them out, allowing them to request assistance. The app was developed a year ago, and only expanded to New Haven this winter.
But Snowcrew.org isn’t just about the hour or so spent shoveling — it’s about weaving together streets and homes and residents, making this large city into a neighborhood.
For a Yeti, procuring a shovel can often be the first battle. Last week, Ellie and I needed to hunt one down before we could get to work. We started at GHeav. Walking in, we shook the manager’s hand and asked if we could borrow the store’s shovel for the next couple hours. He handed us his own personal shovel, which he had just bought that same morning. When we asked if we could leave a phone or ID as collateral, he shook his head: “I trust you.”
On our way to Dwight Street, we passed by a group of New Haven residents taking a break from shoveling to get warm. After exchanging a couple of shoveling jokes, we asked if they had any old shovels they could let us keep. Immediately, one handed us a shovel with no questions asked.
Having lived in New Haven for over three years, I’ve seen how generosity like this on the part of this city’s residents is a common occurrence. It’s not just about shovel sharing: Every day, whether I’m getting a free bike tuneup at College Street Cycles or an extra splash of honey in my tea at Green Well, I reap the benefits of living in a city whose residents care about each other. Just this Valentine’s Day, I ventured to my favorite New Haven shops asking for oddities for a unique Valentine’s Day gift. Stores like the Devil’s Gear and Artspace gave me a medley of items, either free or for a reduced price, making for an interesting bouquet of treasures and a truly unique community experience.
I’m grateful for an app like Snowcrew.org that affords me the opportunity to give a bit back to my city in the form of early mornings and sore shoulders. Throughout the years, I’ve been able to shovel out military veterans, a security officer after a long day of work, grandparents and lifelong New Haven families. Some of my most rewarding and heartfelt moments have come from conversations with these individuals that I’m proud to call my neighbors. As Yale students, we wake up in the morning and our streets have been cleared from snowfall, allowing us to move around with comfort and ease. Cleared sidewalks are such a simple privilege, one easily forgotten. Shoveling a driveway isn’t a glorified or intellectual task, yet the service is so essential.
Yalies and New Haven residents have lived next door to each other for a long time, but sometimes it’s difficult for students to fulfill that neighborly role. Snowcrew.org is grounded in the firm belief that people want to and will help out their fellow neighbors if given the tools to communicate and connect. The app gives us the chance to bring ourselves a little closer in a tangible way during the times when our neighbors need us most.
New Haven will most likely experience a few more snowstorms this winter. It may be tempting to lock ourselves indoors and avoid the cold — but this time of year gives us a unique opportunity to connect with this city and feel its warmth. So grab a shovel, and meet the neighbors as the snow is swept away.
Caroline Smith is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .