Sidewalks in better shape for school children thanks to volunteer Shovel Brigade

shovel brigade

Volunteers with shovels crowd the parking lot behind the Milford library Friday before heading out to clear sidewalks of snow.

Snow-covered sidewalks?

No problem: The Milford Shovel Brigade was out in force Friday to help elderly residents clear their walkways.

City officials agreed that the shovel brigade was somewhat of a novel idea in Milford, born out of necessity. There was so much heavy snow on Milford’s sidewalks that some senior citizens simply could not clear them.

So the city came to the rescue.

Mayor Ben Blake said he and Police Chief Keith Mello talked about the idea last week and then decided that for safety reasons, they needed to organize a brigade to clear snow.

“We decided that we needed safe routes to the schools, and we decided this would be a great event,” Blake said.

Steve Johnson, the city’s open space manager, helped organize the effort, drawing on some successful volunteer efforts he’s arranged to clean up after recent storms.

“We’ll focus on the 14 different schools and get into those neighborhoods to clear sidewalks,” Johnson said as the brigade formed last Friday morning behind the Milford Public Library. “This way there are safe passages to the schools. The message we want to get out there as that we need to assist people who are elderly and encourage those who can to shovel their sidewalks.”

The brigade force appeared to be numbering close to 100 people Friday, with many coming from the police and fire departments. There also were teachers, students and individuals offering their shoveling services for the day.

Tim and Sharon Chaucer showed up with a metal shovel and snow shovel, the metal one for hacking through icy snow and the other for scooping it away.

“It needs to be done,” Tim Chaucer said. “I want the kids back in school.

Chaucer runs several camps in the summer, including a marine biology, archeology and bird identification camp. If school is extended too long into June because of snow days, that will cut into time they have for camps like his and others in the summer months, he said.

A trio of teachers stood nearby with shovels in hand, ready to do their bit since school had been canceled.

Patrice Dunn, a teacher at Live Oaks School, said helping elderly people with the heavy task was the right thing to do, and a good way for her to spend some time off from school.

Carol Herrick, a speech pathologist at Meadowside School, and Sharon Kish, a para-professional educator at Jonathan Law High School, agreed, and said it was a beautiful day to be outside.

Julia Maurer and Drew DeRubeis are seniors at Jonathan Law High School and they heeded the call because it gave them a chance to help out. Julia said she had a few days off from shoveling at her own home, and was rested enough to tackle more snow.

Between 45 and 50 police officers stepped up with their shovels, said Chief Mello.

“I’m so proud,” he said. “I was shocked when I saw how many came out.”

Mello said that in light of the tragic accident last week, when a Milford couple died after being hit by a car in Devon, it was imperative to do something to get the snow off city sidewalks and to increase safety.

“While we recognize it is property owners’ responsibility to clear sidewalks, this is a special circumstance,” Mello said.

Milford residents weren’t the only ones to help form the shovel brigade. Mark Vacirca drove from Brookfield with his small tractor with a plow on the front, a piece of equipment he said could do the work of 10 men.

“I saw it on the news,” Vacirca said about the call for people to help shovel.  “I shoveled a lot at my own property, and I realize it’s a lot of work.”

The mayor grabbed a shovel, actually he was holding several shovels as he joined the brigade and headed out into city neighborhoods.

Four girls from the Devon Rotary Knights basketball team joined too, along with their sisters. Kaitlin Capobianco, 12, Elena Ball, 11, Erica Boehm, 11, Cali Jolley, 11, Madison Jolley, 9, and Paige Jolley, 7 heeded the call from a team father to help out.

Mayor Blake said the volunteer work helped make the city safer for school children.

“The work that the Shovel Brigade did for our children and our citizens is appreciated by all and especially by those who were unable to manage the vast drifts and piles of snow left by the biggest storm in Milford’s history,” Blake said. “The efforts of these volunteers made it possible for Milford’s school children to walk to their bus stops and homes safely.”

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