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Five ways to help your neighborhood in the winter

The winter can be a challenging time for many—here are some ways that you can help

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Debbie Mercer

From simply trying to stay warm to getting to work on time, the deep freeze and heavy snowfalls of midwest winters can produce a number of challenges and make our daily routines more difficult. But for the elderly and disabled, basic tasks like grocery shopping and clearing sidewalks can be challenging or even dangerous when temperatures dip below zero and snow and ice are everywhere. However, there’s a lot we can do to not only help those in need, but to just generally support our neighborhoods during the tough (and cold) Great Lakes winter.


A Chicago alley that has been blanketed with snow and ice
Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Kevin Irvine

Join a block club or neighborhood group

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and many communities have groups of residents who coordinate at a neighborhood level, or even many times on a block by block basis. Some neighbors organize and raise money to have the alley on their block plowed by an independent driver as the city does not send trucks through alleys after snowfalls. Neighborhood groups also regularly host holiday parties, gift drives, and other events to keep community members engaged during the dark, cold days of winter. If your street doesn’t have a block club, start one. It can be as simple as creating an email list or Facebook group and adding your neighbors to it.

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/yooperann

Join the city’s Snow Corps

In Chicago, homeowners and small business owners are responsible for keeping the sidewalks in front of their buildings clear. However, it’s all too common to see stretches of sidewalk in residential pockets completely covered in ice. Sure, the homeowner could be lazy or just not available to take care of it, but there are many cases where an elderly or disabled person is just simply unable to shovel their stretch of sidewalk. The city runs a program called the Snow Corps which connects able volunteers with folks who are unable to clear their sidewalks after snowstorms. However, it’s not necessary to join the program—it’s common to see neighbors come together to keep the full length of sidewalk on their block clear from snow and ice.

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Lucy Rendler-Kaplan

Check on elderly neighbors and the homeless

Christmas is a time for holiday cheer and spending time with family members, but for many, it’s a very lonely and challenging period. The holiday season is all about giving back and showing gratitude, and those who are the most vulnerable in your community will appreciate being checked on and knowing that someone is thinking about them. Simple things like offering a ride to an elderly senior or doing their grocery shopping will go a long way. Providing a heavy winter coat, a cup of coffee, and a book to a homeless person is also a simple and meaningful way to give back and help the community.

#take time to help those who need #people who need people # are the luckiest people in th World

A photo posted by Cynthia Duncan (@cynthia_sue_duncan_) on

Volunteer or give to your local church or food pantry

Some restaurants offer free dinners on specific days during the holiday season, but providing food to those in need is a continuous year-round mission for many local churches and food pantries. Regardless of your feelings towards spirituality and organized religion, churches not only have the framework for distributing donations and food, but they’re generally some of the most efficient, capable, and active organizations when it comes to serving those in need. During the holiday season, many churches and organizations could actually use food and clothing donations more than volunteers—but it’s always a good idea to check and see how you can be of the most help.

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Christopher Hiltz

Don’t participate in parking dibs

Parking dibs is a Chicago tradition, but it’s also something that can really exacerbate the emotions and frustrations of folks during the cold winter months. Regardless of your feelings for or against it, in many cases it’s best to just ignore parking dibs and to avoid getting pulled into the contentiousness it stirs up. Street parking can be challenging and while it can feel fulfilling to claim a spot after spending a bunch of time digging your car out, you’re doing yourself and everyone on your block a favor by just ignoring the chaos that is parking dibs. Sure, you may see some folks putting out chairs or other items to claim a street parking space for themselves—but just leave it alone and avoid any actions that could lead to confrontation that could potentially affect yourself and your immediate neighbors.