– Less than 24 hours after the season’s first snowflakes were spotted in northern Minnesota, city officials announced a pilot program that will give 20 residents a hand shoveling snow off sidewalks this winter.

The city of Duluth is accepting applications for its new snow removal assistance program, which will pair senior citizens or people with disabilities with volunteers who will clear off their walkways.

City code requires Duluth residents to remove snow and ice from public sidewalks bordering their property within 24 hours after a snowfall ends. But as the windchill drops and the drifts pile up, some let their snow removal duties fall by the wayside.

That can pose problems for those walking or using public buses to get around, said Roberta Cich, chair of Duluth’s Commission on Disabilities.

“What is a convenience for some people is a necessity for others,” she said.

The city clears more than 100 miles of walkways near schools, parks and select high-traffic areas. It also makes sure property owners remove snow from the rest of Duluth’s sidewalks — though officials acknowledged the ordinance is often not enforced.

With other cities in Minnesota, such as Minneapolis, cracking down on snow removal violations, Duluth is developing a new plan for removing snow from roads and walkways to be rolled out in the winter of 2020-21.

If the walkway pilot program is successful, it could expand then, too. To qualify for assistance, individuals must demonstrate a need and lack of other resources, such as relatives available to help or money to hire someone. The 20 spots will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis by eligible residents, and those wishing to apply can do so online.

Good Samaritans willing to take on extra shoveling this winter can also sign up on the city’s website, duluthmn.gov.