Neighborday Communities

Neighborday Idea #4: Organize a Community Clean-Up

by Yvette Lopez-Ledesma

April 22, 2015

April 25 marks the fifth anniversary of Neighborday, a global block party we invented to get people talking (and partying) with the people who live around them. Leading up to the big day, we’re sharing creative ways organizations in our native Los Angeles are connecting with the folks who share their walls and fences.

Stay tuned this week for more ideas about how to celebrate. #LetsNeighbor

Neighborday 2015 Idea #4:

Organize a community clean-up.

Every neighborhood has a few neglected areas. For Neighborday, one of the easiest and quickest ideas to throw together is a community clean-up. Volunteers of all ages can help—whether they put on gloves and pick up litter, mow some grass, or haul large objects to a nearby dump site. 

The site of a recent Pacoima Beautiful clean-up effort before volunteers got started.

As deputy director of Pacoima Beautiful, I was recently involved in a community clean-up in Pacoima, California. Here’s how we pulled it off:

1. Put your idea out there and generate a volunteer base.

You can’t take on a clean-up by yourself, and this is a great way to bring your neighbors together. Reach out to your local neighborhood council, community organizations, neighborhood watch groups, schools, and the residents next door to create awareness of the issues related to illegal dumping and pollution. Celebrate environmental stewardship and neighborhood pride.

Volunteers prepare to tackle the clean-up.

2. Identify a location or route that needs some sprucing up.

Ask your volunteer base for their input. Is trash getting clogged up in storm drains down the block? Is there a street near a school, community center, or park that would be easier to access if the streets leading to it had fewer weeds or less litter? Is a cluttered area forcing kids to walk through blighted blocks on their way to a certain school? Depending on how much time you have to plan and how many volunteers you’ve found, you can start small with a tight focus, or tackle a bigger area. 

3. Find out who your local council person/city-level representative is and reach out to their office.

When you let city staff know what you’re planning ahead of time, you’ll make them proud and they may even offer up some public resources at no cost. (If they don’t offer up resources, just ask.)

4. Create an outreach and fundraising plan.

Now that it’s official, create a flyer or a simple email blast and reach out to the friends and neighbors in your volunteer base. Each person you speak to has their own social network and can help spread the word. If there are businesses on your clean-up route, reach out to them and ask if they would be willing to donate to your event.

Remember, donations don’t have to be monetary. Volunteer time is a donation. So is a case of bottled water or a few healthy snacks. (Water and snacks are critical, whether they’re donated or not!) Ask your neighbors to check their garages for tools, bags to put garbage in, or whether they’d offer use of the restroom in their local shop to your volunteers.

The site after clean-up.

5. Time for clean-up.

Now that you have a route, the volunteers, and supplies, you’re ready to get started. Clean-ups are always better in the morning—especially if you’re in a warmer climate. Always remember, safety first. Gloves, hats, closed-toe shoes, and sunscreen are essential. Provide your volunteers with clear instructions. Be ready to answer, “Where do I get a broom?” or  “Where can I find a bandage?”

Your local elected officials should be able to tell you where the trash you collect should be dumped. If you haven’t heard from them in time, search for your local sanitation department online—they likely have details on their website. 

Last but never least, make sure to thank everyone who participates. If you’re still feeling energized from your efforts, invite the team out for lunch, coffee, or drinks in the neighborhood afterward.

Pacoima Beautiful invited a local artist to paint a utility box on the same street as the clean-up site.

Pacoima Beautiful is an environmental justice organization that works to create healthier, more equitable environments in the northeast San Fernando Valley by bringing community members together to find solutions, working to generate and implement long-term and sustainable changes by facilitating an evolving partnership between government, professionals/paraprofessionals, and community volunteers to work toward common goals.

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Neighborday Idea #4: Organize a Community Clean-Up