A spring cleaning for the city

Increase in volunteers, decrease in trash mark third `Sweep Thing'

April 21, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Charles Miller, James Berry and Rashad Dendy were putting the polish on Pennsylvania Avenue near Sandtown-Winchester yesterday morning, sweeping and bagging trash while city workers sandblasted graffiti from walls.

The youngsters were among more than 4,000 volunteers in 189 neighborhoods who turned out for "Super Spring Sweep Thing III - Let's Paint the Town," a day of cleaning up trash and removing graffiti. Charles, 13, was using a sharp-ended metal pole to poke stray pieces of litter. James, 14, swept, and Rashad, 11, bagged.

"We work as a team and try to give back to the community," Charles said.

James chimed in that the three of them hoped to set a good example for younger children - and grown-ups.

The city handed out thousands of push brooms, shovels, trash bags and boxes for the event, which officially began about 9 a.m. next to Madison Square Recreation Center at East Biddle and Eden streets.

The Rev. Reginald T. Johnson Sr., executive director of Recovery King II, a community substance abuse recovery program, brought about 200 volunteers to make amends to the community.

"When they were using, they kept the streets dirty" with needles, vials and bottles, he said. "They dirtied it up. Now they're giving back by cleaning it up."

Participants cheered winners of the first "Cleanup Is Contagious" contest sponsored by the city, with prizes donated by local businesses. Mayor Martin O'Malley presented the awards to 10 of Baltimore's top community cleaners, ranging in age from 9 to 80.

Gladys Cimaglia, president of the St. Helena Community Association in Southeast Baltimore, may be 80, but that doesn't slow down her work painting fire hydrants, planting trees and picking up trash. She said people drive in and dump garbage - and even cars - in her neighborhood.

"The sad part is you have to clean up somebody else's trash," Cimaglia said. "You have to stay on top of it, or you bring down your community."

For the volunteers, the Super Spring Sweep Thing was a celebration of work they do year-round in their neighborhoods. In Upper Fells Point, where more than 60 volunteers turned out about 7 a.m., Ana Maria Gomez, 15, said she and her mother, Adriana Garcia, 37, sweep and clean their street every Saturday.

At the Forest Park branch of the Enoch Pratt library in West Baltimore, 10 volunteers - including two from Fall's Church, Va., who were visiting relatives in Baltimore - helped clean up the grounds.

They picked up three truckloads' worth of stumps, leaves and trash, said Genevieve Mason, 81, who coordinated the volunteers' efforts.

The city spends about $350,000 a year removing graffiti, said Department of Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher. DPW employees Harry Woods, 41, and Carroll Clark, 43, working on Belair Road yesterday, said they use from 5 to 17 gallons of paint a day - depending on the volume of complaints.

Woods said they may return to the same places five or six times a month.

"You do a job today, and the next day, you have to go through it all again," he said. "It does get frustrating."

Kocher said yesterday's cleanup was the largest yet, and the cumulative effects are beginning to show.

"There's more people out and less trash to pick up," he said.

While painting a wall at Madison Square, O'Malley said a recent city survey found that more people think Baltimore is getting cleaner than getting safer.

"So, we're still not where we need to be," the mayor said, "but we're getting better."

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