Cleaning Up and Creating Community

Neighborhood Cleanups

In neighborhoods across Southeast Portland, neighborhood associations organize annual clean up events called “neighborhood cleanups.” At neighborhood cleanups, residents from the community gather for one day at a parking lot in their neighborhood to collect and sort items that they want to get rid of. A neighborhood association rents out dumpsters and solicits volunteers to help out with unloading items into the bins. Large dumpsters are filled with plastic, cardboard, wood and metal, and taken to processing plants where they will be used again.

There are many benefits to having a cleanup. A cleanup averts unwanted items from ending up in the garbage landfill, where they would take up space and contribute to pollution and waste. Cleanups also help to beautify a neighborhood by finding a place for items that may otherwise sit in the attic or front driveway for months or even years. For instance, that three foot high pile of bark mulch sitting in front of the house or those 90s era IBM desktops idling in the basement can be brought to a cleanup to be reused. This year, over 146 computer monitors were diverted from the landfill from the effort of neighbors at several cleanups. Now that is something to get excited about! Most things can be recycled, reused or rescued at a cleanup. Some cleanups even have a sale where reusable items are sold at bargain price.

Well, cleanups sure sound like a good idea, but what if one is not sure about recycling regulations? It is possible to get a Master Recycler to come out to the event and help out with hauling and answering questions. Jana Throckmorton of South Tabor Neighborhood recalls having this kind of help at their most recent cleanup: “I called on Master Recyclers from the advice of Joyce Walls (of Southeast Uplift). We were fortunate to be graced with two of them! One sorted plastic the entire time and one was busy helping and directing people to take things out of dumpsters that were recyclable. The event would have been so much more difficult without the involvement of the master recyclers.”

Cleanups are also an excellent way to raise money for a community cause. Ben Hazelton of Creston-Kenilworth notes that the neighborhood cleanup “is currently the only fund raising source” for their neighborhood association. Funds gathered from cleanups keep neighborhood associations alive and well, and are like the bread and butter for these important community groups. Many associations rely on the funds gathered from cleanups to host special neighborhood-wide events, such as picnics or meetings.

In addition to helping the environment and to raise funds, cleanups are simply a terrific way to get out there and meet with neighbors! One can sign up to volunteer for a couple of hours during a cleanup, and make friends while sorting through scraps and hauling items. Terry Griffiths, of the Woodstock Neighborhood, had this to say about cleanups: “They reinforce neighborhood pride and create and strengthen a sense of community.” Neighborhood cleanups bring people out of their homes and connect them to other people who live in the area.

Hosting a neighborhood cleanup is no small feat. Organizing a neighborhood cleanup takes a lot of time and planning. For those new to organizing, Southeast Uplift can offer the necessary tools to make a successful cleanup. Southeast Uplift (SEUL) is a neighborhood coalition office that, among other services, provides assistance to neighborhood associations that wish to have cleanups. What are some of the ways that it can help? Gayle Marechal of Mount Tabor says that SEUL “helped in funding our effort by providing money to help pay for drop boxes, and by providing a seminar for clean-up coordinators. Is a good source of information regarding resources, and helps coordinate our efforts by providing necessary information.” SE Uplift hosted a neighborhood cleanup training in 2007 that provided organizers with helpful strategies and methods to use in their cleanups, as well as a chance to meet and greet with other organizers doing similar events. The training went very well and many were in attendance.

In the afternoon, after the hauling and sorting have been finished at the Richmond Cleanup, volunteers sit together, eat pizza and drink lemonade. They exchange feedback about the cleanup and about their plans for next year’s event. It has been quite a productive day of sorting and hauling reusable items. The parking lot, which was a few hours before full of computer monitors, cardboard boxes, old flowerpots and TVs, is now empty. Dumpsters full of these items stand in the parking lot, ready to be taken to recycling facilities where the materials will be reused. In 2007 at the South Tabor Cleanup, over 1000 lbs of plastic were recycled, and over 15 cell phones were given to Volunteers of America, to be recycled back into the community.

The value of neighborhood cleanups can be seen by the friendships and sense of gratitude that they create among neighbors. Marie Philippi of Brooklyn comments: “I really think that cleanups promote community in that people can meet most of the neighborhood board, meet other neighbors and feel they are giving something back to their neighborhood both by volunteering and participating. We do get great positive feedback from the people that use this service. Lots of thanks.” After one goes home from a cleanup, there is a feeling of satisfaction and connection at having done something for the community.