Sometimes it takes an official nudge to get people who want to be helpful to actually be helpful. Adequate numbers of volunteers are hard to come by.
But the greater good a few can do has been borne out on street after street in this soulful 'Burgh. The greater good -- not me but my street, not my street but my city, not my city but my country -- has been on my mind lately and not just because national politics has taken leave of such sensibilities.
Everywhere I go, I see fewer people who are here now and more of all ages in the hyper-interior lockdown of ear buds and mobile-phone obsession. This addiction amazes me and makes me wonder what it bodes for the greater good.
In tributes to President John F. Kennedy on the anniversary of his assassination last week, his most memorable quote (unless you're a native of Berlin) was repeated: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
The author of a recent book about Kennedy, Chris Matthews made the point that no president has asked us to sacrifice since then, although Jimmy Carter did ask us to turn thermostats down. That didn't go over too well. I believe he also asked us to drive less. Not to put too fine a point on his decline, but ultimately Mr. Carter was attacked by a swamp rabbit.
Fortunately, sacrifice still has a pulse in local neighborhoods.
We all know that when the city is challenged to clear the most heavily traveled streets of snow, crews won't get to our winding slopes and quiet side streets.
You want less government? You're getting it. You don't? Too bad. Whether we want to or not, we have to take control for the greater good.
Polish Hill's little snow brigade is a shining example of citizenry. For the past two winters, the Polish Hill Civic Association has organized shoveling to clear sidewalks and dig out hillside steps and bus stops.
"We also have people who automatically take care of their own streets," said Terry Doloughty, president of the civic association. "They just go out there and get it done."
Mr. Doloughty said he has circulated the mayor's Snow Angels initiative on Facebook and on blogski.phcapgh.org.
"When we had the grand blizzard, we knew the city would be overtaxed and that our only way was a simple answer -- ourselves. We shoveled down to Liberty Avenue and to our businesses to keep the neighborhood functional. We were a 100 percent pedestrian neighborhood for a few days."
That infamous Snowmageddon weekend of Feb. 5-7, 2010, gave many the incentive to act. It brought out people who wanted to do something useful and who care for their neighbors. Besides gratitude, they also got camaraderie.
"During the big blizzard, we saw a lot of younger people who have moved to our street shoveling sidewalks and meeting older neighbors," said Lauren Byrne, who lives on Bruce Street in Middle Lawrenceville and is executive director of Lawrenceville United. "They became snow-buddies.
"Last winter, we organized it and made it an official program open to all residents of the neighborhood. We went to the senior center and got people signed up and did a call for volunteers and got 25 who signed up to 'adopt' close to 40 seniors. A lot of people did double and triple duty.
"One of our supervolunteers did three or four houses a day and asked if there were more seniors he could help."
All fervent wishes aside, the snow is coming, so if you are disposed to help others or need a snow angel, apply at your senior center, call 311 or visit pittsburghpa.gov/servepgh/snowangels. Recipients must be 60 or older or disabled. If able-bodied kin are near or you can afford private snow removal, please refrain from applying.
And angels, remember that whether you're official or not, you will make life more wonderful for your neighborhood this winter.