A Port in the Storm

Junior creates Snow Crew to help locals facing fines over snow removal


Photo by Scott Stroney

Snow crew members work to clear the sidewalk and driveway of a Belmont resident after the Jan. 17 snow.

When junior Drew Lambert first thought of the idea of helping people shovel snow from their driveways, he had no idea how far the project would go.

The Snow Crew, which Lambert organized with members of the AHS rowing team, has cleared over 80 driveways this year. His vision for the Snow Crew was to, “address a specific community need, and something we could all get together and help someone out.”

Charlottesville City requires residents to clear sidewalks in front of their homes within 24 hours after the end of snowfall. If the sidewalk is not cleared, the city will have someone come out to clear the driveway, but the resident will be charged.

The cost for professionals to clear sidewalks is approximately $84 per house. This past snow season, 15 people were fined, according to city director of neighborhood development services James Freas.

The City snow removal requirement was, “part of the reason for starting” the Snow Crew. Lambert worried about those physically unable to clear areas who risked injury or a fine.

One of the most challenging parts of the project was getting local news organizations to cover their work, according to Lambert. CBS 19 ran a Snow Crew story on Jan. 7, followed by NBC 29 News and The Daily Progress over the next week. After their story hit the air, the Snow Crew received over 100 calls in the last two snowstorms.

Thanking him for the Snow Crew’s help clearing the sidewalks in front of her house, Virginia Hester enjoys a moment with Snow Crew organizer junior Drew Lambert and rowing coach Scott Stroney. (Courtesy of Scott Stroney)

One call was from City resident Virginia Hester. While shoveling snow last year her lung collapsed and she was left in the hospital for two weeks. Doctors told Hester to, “never do that again,” and she was left facing more injury or a fine.

Hester heard about the Crew on television and called the number. She described the organization as “extremely helpful,” while also citing the fact that the work that they do is free of charge.

Though the organization was Lambert’s idea, he had support from his rowing teammates, coaches, and his family.

“I was thrilled when Drew came up with the idea for Snow Crew,” rowing coach Scott Stroney said.  “First of all, this idea came from a student.  What a thoughtful way to give back to the community.  And, this is a wonderful way for the rowing team to address a real need in the Charlottesville area.”

It also didn’t take much convincing to get his teammates onboard the project.“I joined Snow Crew because it seemed like a fun thing to do with the crew team while getting a decent workout,” senior Sydney Foster said. “However, I didn’t understand how much it was actually needed. As the snow for me is usually only an inconvenience, I hadn’t realized how many others were unable to even leave the house, let alone get food, or go to appointments or work.”

Watch junior Drew Lambert address Charlottesville City Council about their fines for snow removal. Video courtesy of David Dillehunt.

The Snow Crew’s interactions with City residents inspired Lambert to speak during the Feb. 7 Charlottesville City Council meeting. In his speech, he provided examples of people the Snow Crew has helped, while also proposing possible solutions to the problem.

Lambert suggested “creating a waiver form that residents can fill out to waive them of this responsibility when they have a demonstrated need. If the city deems it necessary, they can still hire crews to clear these sidewalks, but the financial burden will be on the city, not low-income, disabled, or elderly residents of our community.”

Speakers are only given three minutes for public comment, so Lambert had to cut some of his prepared remarks after rehearsing them. “ I specifically made emotional appeals about the experiences I had with people, because I knew that would be effective at moving them to change it,” he said via email.

Snow crew members senior Gabriel Duval and juniors Drew Lambert and Cole Bruen pause while working to clear a driveway in Fifeville after the Jan. 3 snowstorm. (Scott Stroney)

“While speaking, I was stressed and trying to say everything that I wanted to say. When I was done, I was glad that I was able to do my part to try to change this law. I knew from experience how much hardship it caused for people in our community. I was also hopeful that it would draw attention to the issue, and push the city council to do something about it.”

In response to Lambert’s public comments, City Council is working with volunteer organizations to help residents who cannot clear the sidewalks adjacent to their property, according to an email from Councilor Sena Magill.

The Snow Crew plans on continuing their work next winter.  Senior Gabriel Duval said that he absolutely plans “on continuing to help out in the future! I am so proud of my team for all the effort we have put in and all of the people we have helped, and am glad to have the opportunity to help people in such an important way.”

Anyone interested in joining the Snow Crew can find out more on their website, Facebook, Instagram, or by emailing the Crew.