Organizing a Large Scale Neighborhood Cleanup Event in Philly
This article is by our Chief Sustainability Officer, Sam Holloschutz, and is informed by his own experience organizing neighborhood cleanups in Philadelphia.
I never believed the saying “one person can make a difference.” That changed when I took over as chair of the Fairmount Civic Association’s Neighborhood Improvement Committee in 2014. The committee is tasked with endeavoring for the environmental benefit of the community, or as I like to say, “greening up the neighborhood.” Prior to assuming this role, the committee consisted of just myself and one other person. Had I not replaced her, the committee may have sat member-less for some time and no cleanups would have occurred. I have lead 5 cleanups (and assisted in another before my promotion), which have brought out more than 600 volunteers and resulted in the removal of TONS of trash and recycling from the streets and nearby wooded areas. Not patting myself on the back, but that wouldn’t have happened had I not taken a leadership position. It’s these activities and more that earned me SustainPHL’s inaugural Neighborhood Champion award. If your street is covered in trash, it’s not going to clean itself up and you cannot wait around for someone else to put in the work. It’s up to each of us to take the initiative to create the change and progress we desire. Below are steps to organizing a neighborhood cleanup.
- Pick a date or small range of dates but give yourself 2 1/2-3 months. This is important because you want enough time to get the word out and reach as many people as possible. It’s also critical because requesting supplies from the city (more on that later) requires giving them time to get your order ready. My committee holds our fall cleanup on the first or second Saturday of November and the spring cleanup on the city’s Spring Cleanup The advantage to scheduling yours on that day is you can list the cleanup on the city’s website and attract more volunteers.
- Get others involved. Contact local businesses and ask if they’d be willing to offer coffee, water, snacks, and drink and food specials to your volunteers. Most are willing to hang your flier in their windows too. The more businesses you get involved, the less stress you’ll have and your flier will look legit with lots of sponsor logos. Plus—people love free stuff. I’ve given out museum passes to Eastern State Penitentiary and 76ers tickets. Reward your volunteers for their hard work. Notify your local civic association and get their help. They love this stuff. Contact PowerCorpsPHL and ask for a team to help out. In my experience, their groups were a HUGE addition as they brought out a lot of people and offered their truck to pick up trash bags from other volunteers to place at drop off locations. And please feel free to reach out to me for guidance. If your volunteers collect leaves, we may be able to pick them up.
- Create an online event page. I use Eventbrite because it’s free and easy. It’s also searchable so you can get volunteers from those browsing the website.
- Get the word out. Post fliers (never on trees, of course) around the neighborhood and in the windows of businesses. My fliers always say something along the lines of “email Sam or search Fairmount Cleanup on Eventbrite to register.” Post your Eventbrite page on social media, especially Nextdoor. Reach out to local schools and religious institutions and ask them to let their members know. One of the FCA members has access to the Fairmount parents’ listserv and always posts our cleanups to it. It’s great to get kids involved and thinking about their community. Contact local environmental groups like Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, Green Philly Blog, and MilkCrate. They’ll put your cleanup on their calendars and advertise through social media. Contact all local news organizations at least one week before the cleanup. Go to their websites and click the “submit a tip” links and post your own press release. Check out NBC 10’s recap of our 2014 Fall Cleanup here. The anchor used some of my press release word for word!
- Decide on trash drop-off locations. Use Google Maps (or the like) and walk around your neighborhood to determine the best corners for your volunteers to leave their collected trash. Do not choose corners where restaurants reside. On the day of your event, have these locations printed out on small strips of paper or text them to volunteers. The Streets Department will pick everything up. If your cleanup falls on the city’s Spring Cleanup date, you can specify locations for recycling pickups. For my other cleanups, I ask volunteers if they would like to bag recyclables separately, to drop them at my building’s corner so I can make sure they get recycled.
- Request supplies from the city. I go through the city’s spring clean website for my spring events. For all others, I put requests into the Managing Director’s Office through the Community Life Improvement Program. The actual form is here. I normally request at least 150-200 bags and 5 rakes. These are BIG paper bags so if you have leftovers, you can give them out to neighbors for leaf collection. I’ve even used them to pair with my street trash can as a recycling receptacle. Use them for your home’s recycling too and save yourself trips to your bins.
Day of the cleanup:
- Have a sign in sheet and collect email addresses. You will email your volunteers when it’s time for your next cleanup. If they are using supplies that the city needs back (brooms, rakes), have a column for them to check off and have them put their put number down. I’ve never had a problem with getting supplies back.
- Give out gloves. You may need to purchase them or the city will give them to you. If you have to pay, see if your civic association will reimburse you. Many volunteers will bring them back, so you will have them for future cleanups.
- Count how many bags you have before getting started and count how many are left when the cleanup is over. From experience, it’s difficult to keep a running count so don’t stress yourself out trying.
- Take photos. Go to your drop off locations and a. be amazed at how much was collected and b. get photographic proof. Post to social media (noting how many total bags of trash and recycling were used) and show off what a great job your volunteers did.
- Keep metrics of how many volunteers came out, how many registered, how they heard about the cleanup, and how much trash was collected. Use these numbers to motivate yourself into conducting more cleanups.
I hope this article helped alleviate some of the anxiety one may feel when considering a large cleanup. It’s really not hard and if you’re looking to conduct a smaller event, refer to my previous post regarding the Block Captain program. Please let us know if you have any questions and how your cleanup goes. Happy cleaning and greening, Philly!