We ran out of gloves before we even left the parking lot.
Same with garbage bags.
And the carload of rakes and shovels and trash tongs wasn't nearly enough for the number of volunteers who showed up for our Garden Street cleanup.
Up until Saturday morning, I envisioned standing out in the rain, alone, with six dozen doughnuts and lots of time to ponder my bad idea.
But even before all the supplies borrowed from Knox Parks Foundation were distributed, more people than I ever dared hope for arrived, ready to work.
First Joe from Marlborough, who — bless his heart — read about the cleanup and thought it was a fine way to spend a Saturday morning.
Then Fay Evans and a huge crew of kids and adults from her Star Mentoring program.
Habitat for Humanity showed up in force. Same with ACORN.
And then so many others: a couple of city council members, one state representative, Police Chief Daryl Roberts, Deputy Chief John Horvath. Acting director of the city's public works department Kevin Burnham didn't just show up to make good on his promise to have the garbage picked up; he worked right alongside volunteers. Same goes for Edison Silva, from licenses and inspections.
People who live, work or pray in the city showed. But also those who hadn't been back for a while and thought the cleanup was a pretty good reason for a return trip.
After spending a week in August reporting from Garden Street, I admittedly had a hard time just walking away. Besides the expected problems, there was a refreshing and inspiring desire for change from residents who were hanging in despite the odds.
I wanted to let them know that they weren't alone, and while the cleanup may not have been the best idea, I figured it was a start. So I enlisted my colleague Susan Campbell and a handful of Garden Street residents. And then I held my breath, never thinking that so many people would come — people who I recognized, more that I didn't and a surprising number who I've sparred with in the past but whose attendance and participation said a lot about their character and that of a city with more heart and potential than it ever gets credit for.
Now, of course, the challenge is to keep it up — and for that I call on the residents of Garden Street.
This is your street, your neighborhood and in the end, your responsibility.
It might not seem like a big deal, litter. But allowing it, living with it, shows that you expect, that you will accept, less. And you shouldn't.
So, if you see someone littering, throwing trash like no one cares, call them on it. Tell them you care. Tell them the 100-plus people who showed up on a rainy Saturday morning care, too.
And don't just walk past it either, pick it up. It doesn't take long. We learned that when, in less than two hours, we looked down the street and saw what just a little effort can accomplish.
Even before we were done, many of the volunteers were calling for another cleanup, on Garden and other Hartford streets. One Boy Scout suggested Park Street. Another, Albany Avenue.
Maybe these cleanups should be monthly, someone suggested. Maybe we should have a cleanup committee, someone else said.
But for now, let's enjoy this success, and let it inspire more, and lasting, change.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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