Volunteers turn out for a clean sweep

2,000 devote their Saturday to tidying their parts of city

October 21, 2007|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,Sun reporter

Up early on a Saturday morning, dozens of volunteers spread out along South Broadway in Fells Point yesterday with brooms and rakes and power washers.

They were doing it to make the place they call home, or where they go to church or to work each day, a place they could look at with pride - without having to see the broken beer bottles, cigarette butts, food wrappers or the dead rat they dumped into the trash.

"Keeping our city clean is a cornerstone of what we're trying to do to better our community," said Angel Nunez, senior pastor of the Bilingual Christian Church in Southeast Baltimore. "It all starts with the small things. The guy who has no respect for our city, for the laws, thinks nothing of throwing things on the floor. It's a mindset.

"We're cleaning up our city. We're cleaning up the perception. We're not a dirty city. We're a clean city."

Similar sweeps took place throughout Baltimore yesterday. More than 2,000 volunteers signed up to participate in the city's biannual cleanup day, officials said. The work began at 8 a.m. and continued throughout the day.

Church groups, neighborhood associations and other civic organizations set about planting trees and grass seed, and tidying up their little corners of Baltimore. City workers were also out to help with the heavy lifting, dropping off large tash bins in neighborhoods to encourage people to lend a hand.

"We've got folks all over the city," Mayor Sheila Dixon, who traded in her high heels for more appropriate tennis shoes, told some members of a South Broadway church group as she surveyed their work late in the morning.

She discussed with the Rev. Daniel Santos and Nicolas Ramos, president of the Hispanic Business Association, how those along this stretch of Broadway - considered a Hispanic main street by many - could help keep the place looking as good as it did yesterday.

There was talk of putting business owners in charge of watering sections of new plantings in the median strip and having the city return with trash bins once a month.

"If we get people to take personal responsibility and use trash cans," Dixon said, "we'll keep it clean."

Santos' group from the Iglesia Pentecostal de Evangelizacion Misonera on South Broadway had 60 members.

"This is a representative street of the Latino community. We want to keep it clean and have a good front yard," said Santos, who is also a city police chaplain and is originally from Puerto Rico. "As quickly as peeling an egg, we can do so many good things, if you have your heart in it and the will to do it."

Not far away, on Milton Avenue near Patterson Park, two rival youth football teams, made up mostly of boys ages 9 through 12, were competing to see which could do a better job mulching newly planted trees. Garry Brown, coach of the Purple Kings, said part of the agreement the kids sign when they enter the league is to do a community service project - and yesterday they were doing their duty.

"These kids plant these trees, they have ownership of these trees. So when they come over here and see their friends hanging on the trees, they should say, `That's my tree, so get off,'" Brown said, as the kids formed an assembly line dumping the last of the mulch into wheelbarrows. "It helps them to respect the neighborhood."

Middle school, he said, is the perfect time to drill children in the concept of responsibility. "That's where a lot of kids get lost," he said.

Back on Broadway, Agustin Villa, a house painter from Brooklyn Park who attends Santos' church, took a break from raking. He said yesterday's task wasn't only about cleaning up what could be seen, but about something more.

"We're trying to get a good image for the Hispanic community," he said.

Added factory worker Eulalia Flores, through a translator: "It's not hygienic to keep things dirty. The area looks very good when it's nice and clean. It's better for everything to look clean."

stephanie.desmon@baltsun.com

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