Whiskey bottles, condoms, pill bottles, syringes, blankets, sleeping bags, shoes, socks, underwear and even a snow shovel–are just a few of the interesting things we found on Thursday when seven residents of the Exchange District showed up on a warm, sunny afternoon to help clean up Steve Juba Park and the riverbank beside it.
I was picking up trash with V, a friendly outgoing woman a little older than me, and we chatted about our families, our experiences with condo life in the Exchange and our travels. It was a great chance to get to know one of my neighbors. V says she makes it a regular part of her neighborhood walks to pick up litter. She has a real sense of ownership and responsibility for her Exchange community. “I’m just embarrassed when we get company and they see all this garbage from our condo window!”
V and I picked up hundreds of cigarette butts and when a trio of young people slid onto a park bench in an area we’d just cleaned and lit up their cigarettes, V walked up to them and said kindly, “You know what happens to the poor baby birds when they ingest cigarette butts don’t you? They die! Birds pick up the butts to use for nest-building and then their hatchlings eat material from the butts and can be poisoned.” Suprisingly the teens listened politely and threw their butts in the garbage when they were done smoking.
So many people walking by stopped to thank us for what we were doing. It really felt good to have our efforts recognized. Two Asian ladies who didn’t speak English very well, kept repeating with a question in their voices “Volunteer?” They seemed to find it hard to believe we would volunteer for such a task. One enthusiastic walker even gave us God’s blessing and told us we’d go to heaven for our clean up efforts.
As I worked I thought about the people who had left all that garbage. Why would they just toss their paper bags and styrofoam cups into the bushes when there are lots of garbage cans available in the park?
Under the pump house porch I found evidence that someone had been living there in the past. There was a foam mattress embedded in the dirt, a muddy blanket, lots of metal sardine cans, dozens of empty juice boxes and even a broken mirror. I wondered what had happened in that person’s life that forced him or her to make a temporary home on the riverbank. It was good for me to realize that people with a very different lifestyle than mine also call my neighborhood home.
Picking up litter was certainly great exercise–all that bending and lifting and carrying full bags of trash. V and I remarked that we wouldn’t need to visit the gym the next day–we’d had our workout. We speculated as to how many calories we’d burned in our two hours of garbage detail.
The seven of us filled up 26 bags of litter. Not bad for an afternoon’s work! I felt a real sense of accomplishment as I walked back to my condo.