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Ask a 'sotan: How can I be a better neighbor this winter?

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Jim Gates shovels his and his neighbor's sidewalk.
Jim Gates shovels his sidewalk as well as some of his neighbors' walkways on Forest Street in St. Paul.
Courtney Perry for MPR News 2015

Ask a 'sotan is an occasional series exploring the questions from curious Minnesotans about our state. Have a question about life in Minnesota? Ask it here.

Piles of fresh white snow falling from the sky might be nice to look at from your living room window, but it causes a lot of headaches for everyday life once you leave your home.

We asked Minnesotans for ideas on how to help your neighborhood when the snow banks pile up.

Lauren Edstrom, marketing and development director for Metro Meals on Wheels, suggested that neighbors check in on each other, especially if the neighbor is elderly. 

"Sometimes the simplest thing can make the biggest difference. A lot of time people don't think to ask. They think they're infringing on someone's independence," Edstrom said. "It's better to ask and be told no than to assume that they're just fine."

Some of her suggestions include: 

• Stop by a neighbor to check in, especially if a neighbor doesn't have a lot of visitors through the winter. "Sometimes just you just need a friendly face to come visit," Edstrom said. She said a great excuse to check in, grab your neighbor's mail or the newspaper and bring it to their house.

• Check and see if the heat is working correctly in your neighbor's home. You don't have to walk in, but if your neighbor has a lot of layers on or appears cold for being inside, ask whether their heating is having a problem. 

• Offer to run errands, especially if the neighbor can't drive or isn't comfortable driving on icy road conditions. 

• If you check in, consider bringing something that you can leave in their fridge, especially if it's difficult to drive.

• Make sure they have your number. It doesn't help if your neighbor knows you're willing to lend a hand, but they don't know how to contact you.

"It's about building a relationship, it's not just a one and done situation," Edstrom said.

If you're a master with the snow shovel, consider clearing public areas that others have missed or not gotten to yet. Shovel around a bus stop or near a fire hydrant. 

For a lot of our audience, a great suggestion involved clearing out driveways and sidewalks with a snowblower. And if someone does it for you, offering them a gift of snacks or libations in return.

The last 3 days of plowable snow, my neighbor has used his snowblower to clear the end of my driveway after the plow has come through. Pretty sure he has done the same for 3 others as well, on our block. #BigThanks!

— Grant G. (NOBEC) 🇺🇸 (@GFGartland) February 13, 2019

My neighborhood is VERY good at snow blowing each other's driveways.

— Matt DePoint (@mattdepoint) February 13, 2019

Have a question about life in Minnesota? Submit your question below.