Charleston is stocked with litter pickers, bags, gloves and neon-green T-shirts as city officials prepare for this weekend’s annual Charleston cleanup event.
Volunteers will disperse across the city on Saturday to pick up garbage in two shifts, one from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and another from 12:30 to 4 p.m. The cleanup day comes from a partnership between the city and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Make It Shine program.
“It’s just like every year, when you start to spring clean your house,” Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said. “It’s that, but we do it at the city level. We knew early on last year that this was going to be essential in the city, so we want to make sure it happens this year.”
Goodwin held her first city cleanup as mayor in spring 2019, when hundreds of volunteers helped collect an estimated 100 tons of garbage.
The 2020 cleanup was scheduled for this past spring, but Goodwin said the event had to be delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had to push back a little, but that’s OK,” Goodwin said. “There’s going to be social distancing. It will be a perfect, perfect, perfect, opportunity to give back to the community.”
This year, volunteers will be provided with masks and hand sanitizer, in addition to litter pickers and gloves, to ensure the cleanup is as safe as it can be, said Jane Bostic, coordinator for the cleanup project and special assistant to the mayor.
“We added masks because, while we’ll be outside and separated, some people prefer to wear them. The United Way donated hand-sanitizer bottles. We’re set,” Bostic said. “We’ll even have a runner going between sites — we’ll know what street all the volunteers should be on — and checking on those who are picking up. She’ll bring them anything they run out of or need.”
There will be check-in locations throughout the city — at the Kanawha City Community Center, North Charleston Community Center, Roosevelt Neighborhood Center, George Washington High School and the Bigley Avenue Piggly Wiggly — for anyone interested in participating to sign in and receive the needed materials.
“Wherever you are in Charleston, wherever you live, there will be a location near you,” Goodwin said.
Volunteers do not need to sign up beforehand, Goodwin said, and are encouraged to stop by whenever they can Saturday and provide any time possible.
“That’s kind of what we want, people to stop by as they’re walking or whenever they’re free,” Goodwin said. “Give us a half hour, an hour, whatever you can give. We’ll take it.”
Bostic was responsible for helping organize this year’s cleanup. She said she doesn’t know yet how many people will participate, but she’s already been contacted by several groups that plan to volunteer.
“It’s hard to give a number, because there are, at least last year, a lot of people who come through that you don’t anticipate,” Bostic said. “There are several groups, although — people who need community-service hours, like sports teams, the [Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts troops] and others — who said they’ll be coming.”
The pandemic meant some minor changes for this year’s event, but Bostic said the circumstances around COVID-19 make this a somewhat ideal activity. It’s all outside, she said. People will be socially distanced, spread out in small groups throughout the city.
“This is something. It’s actually, I think, easy to get volunteers, because of everything that’s going on,” Bostic said. “You get to see some friends and neighbors, better our community and get out of the house. We’ve been cooped up inside for months, and it should be beautiful this weekend.”
Goodwin said events like the cleanup are a way to bring the community together to invest in Charleston’s neighborhoods and people. It’s not just about making it a clean, vibrant place for the people already here, Bostic added, but for those visiting or who might want to move their family or business here one day.
“This allows us to have a sense of pride in our community, where we live — where we all live,” Bostic said. “We’re showing visitors, as well as our neighbors, that pride. Showing that this is a place we invest in, that we’re proud of Charleston. I think that’s a very important thing to believe and support in our city.”