As snow blanketed much of the country — including Chicago — Feb. 15, Rogers Park resident Kristin Yarnell found herself stuck in her car at the entrance to her building’s alley around 10 p.m after her hour and a half commute home from work.
That’s when some strangers tapped on her window and offered to help dig her car out. As they started shoveling, the group multiplied until there were 10 people working together to free her vehicle.
“These people were just coming out of the woodworks,” said Yarnell, 29, who works at a shelter for women recovering from substance abuse and has lived in Rogers Park for four years. “I was like ‘where are you guys coming from?’ It’s like all of a sudden, they just appeared.”
Just north of Rogers Park, northern suburb Evanston saw 18 inches of snow Feb. 15-16 deposited by a strong storm system that stretched across the country, causing snowfall as far south as the Gulf Coast of Texas, according to the National Weather Service. Although Illinois wasn’t close to the storm’s axis, Lake Michigan increased the amount of snowfall in northern Illinois and Indiana, where more than 12 inches of snow was common with isolated pockets up to 18 inches, The National Weather Service said.
Yarnell said she and ten strangers put on a “whole production,” digging her car out from the snow and clearing a path through the alley so she could park in her garage. Yarnell said she helped stomp through the alley to trample a path for the car while her roommate drove, others dug snow out from under the car and still more helpers pushed the car from behind to help it along. The group spent a half-hour pushing the vehicle 370 feet down the alley, Yarnell said.
“It was fun too, we were pushing the car and the car started picking up traction faster we could walk or run and people started falling,” Yarnell said. “At first, I felt guilty they were falling down at my expense but they were laughing and then we were all laughing.”
Yarnell said she initially felt “apologetic” and had a hard time accepting the help, but by the end of the experience she said it served as a reminder to let herself “receive help and love from people.”
“It took me getting physically stuck in the snow to feel okay accepting help,” Yarnell said. “And they had no clue about any of that, they saw some girl stuck in a car and they just did what was so natural to them.”
Another Rogers Park resident, Jennifer Martinez, said she also received help from strangers when her car got stuck in the morning of Feb. 16. as she was leaving for work. Martinez, who’s 28 and works as a banker, said she’s lived in the neighborhood her entire life, but this is the first year her car has gotten stuck. She said she’s usually the one helping others free their vehicles because she sees it as an “unspoken rule” in the neighborhood.
“I panicked,” Martinez said. “I didn’t want to be that person holding up traffic or holding up four cars especially when I know they can’t reverse because of all the snow.”
Martinez said the people in the few cars behind her “didn’t honk or offer help” but two people walking their dog passed by and one stopped to knock on her window. She said he didn’t even introduce himself, just asked if she had four-wheel drive and started helping to free her car from the snow.
“I think it’s very rare to see people not helping each other in this neighborhood,” Martinez said. “It’s very black and white, either people don’t care at all or immediately help out.”
There’s a 30 percent chance more snow will fall Feb. 17 after 3 p.m. and a 40 percent chance of snow throughout the day and night Feb. 18 but it’s expected to be lighter than the past few days, according to The National Weather Service.