By Dedra Cordle
Payton Spitzer was beginning to believe this cleanup event was staged.
It was shortly after the 8-year-old set off with a group of family and friends to remove litter on Sullivant Avenue and they had already ruined a pair of protective gloves, filled two large bags with waste and were working hard on the third.
She stood on the sidewalk with her hands on her hips, looking down at the empty soda bottles and food wrappers lining the street and then to her left where an assortment of broken glass, Lady Bic razors and socks grossly adorned the corner of a vacant business.
With a look of disgust, she swirled around to face her aunt Rachel Greer and demanded to know if this was a set up.
“Did they throw all of this out here just for us?” she asked.
“What are you talking about,” Greer replied.
“The cleanup event people,” said Spitzer. “Did they come out here earlier and throw all of this out to give us something to do?”
“No, baby,” she laughed. “They didn’t do this at all.”
A confused Spitzer then demanded to know who did.
“Nasty people,” interjected Ashanai Williams.
“It was done by those who just don’t care about this city,” said Greer.
Greer has been a resident of the westside on and off for three decades and said she can always remember trash on the streets and in the neighborhoods.
“It was there but it wasn’t always so bad,” she said. “It seems as if has really picked up in the last few years.”
She said she has a hunch as to what had prompted the increase and finds it all the more heartbreaking.
“People just seem to not be in their right minds with all of the drug use going on,” said Greer. “It’s upsetting for a number of reasons but we don’t need our children to be living in filth because of their decisions.”
It was the discovery of used needles in her neighborhood that prompted the group of six to sign up for this year’s South-Central Hilltop Cleanup on Sept. 28. Greer said they had participated last year and found it made them feel better about the community.
“It’s just so great to see people out here, trying to make a difference,” she said. “That’s what is going to make our situation change – people who care.”
The 10th annual cleanup began around 10 a.m. in front of Burroughs Elementary School on S. Richardson Avenue. Though some volunteers arrived earlier for coffee and doughnuts, the crowd really started to swell around that time, which warmed the heart of organizer Lisa Boggs.
“It’s disheartening sometimes to see all of this litter on the streets and all of the old furniture dumped in our alleys,” said the community activist. “And then you look around and see people out there on their morning walks picking up trash and then you see a hundred volunteers come out during a cleanup event and it restores your hope.”
Boggs, who later swore that the trash on the streets was not planted by event organizers, said discarded items are a problem everywhere, not just on the westside.
“It doesn’t just affect our neighborhood, or our city, or our state,” she said. “It’s all over our country, all over the world, and it’s suffocating our oceans.”
She said cleanup events like this help make a small dent in a global problem.
“If just one person cleans up one block it will make such a difference.”
And that is what the hundred volunteers that morning did. For more than an hour, dozens of small groups set out across the area, picking up trash on the roads, trash on the sidewalks, trash matted in grass. Some even brought their own weed trimmers to cut back on noxious overgrowth. By noon, their section of Sullivant Avenue (other organizations tackled different parts of the westside) wasn’t spotless but it was a vast improvement.
“They did a great job,” said William Huffman, the operations manager for Friends of the Hilltop.
He said while he harbors no belief it will stay that way for long, people need to stay persistent in their quest for change.
“They want you to give up,” he said. “We can’t. And we won’t.”
He encouraged residents to stay the course and to keep the pressure on city leaders to invest more into the westside.
Recently, the city of Columbus announced a comprehensive neighborhood safety strategy which officials say will “dedicate resources to prevention, enforcement, and education” in order to cut down on crime and revitalize the community. Part of the strategy includes mapping 311 complaints to pin point illegal dumping hot spots, reducing 300-gallon trash containers to 90-gallons, and investing $500,000 to expand safety cameras into select alleys.
Boggs said she has already seen a small difference with these new initiatives and is hopeful they will continue to build on the progress.
“It’s very early but we can already see some small changes.”
She said what would be beneficial is if residents would call 311 if they have large amounts of trash or unwanted furniture to discard.
“They could also help by not littering,” she added. “That would be terrific.”