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Snowstorms melting brusque Northeast attitudes

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 grassroots 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 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 started 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. 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.

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 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."

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