Hundreds of volunteers cleaned up trash across Olympia for “Oly Clean in 2014.”
Saturday’s inaugural event was organized by Olympia Memes, a popular Facebook page with an anonymous moderator who pokes fun at life in the city. At least 21 teams of volunteers registered, with some people also working at sites in Lacey and Tumwater.
One cleanup crew at Harry Fain’s Legion Park experienced a reality check — and disgust — upon finding a cluster of used syringes. Scattered in the leaves nearby were tiny bags and orange plastic caps. In the first 30 minutes, volunteers filled an empty milk jug with at least a dozen dirty needles, picking them up with grabber tools.
“I’ve heard about it, but I’ve just never seen it for myself,” said volunteer Sandra Thomas, wearing blue rubber gloves and clutching a trash bag. “I guess that’s my own naiveté.”
Another volunteer at the park was Seth Gerken, who spotted a Nerf football in a patch where needles were found. Gerken’s wife, three children and mother-in-law washed the jungle gym with soapy sponges on the other side of the park. Their children often play at the park.
“Kids pick up shiny objects,” said Gerken, shaking his head at the health hazards of discarded needles. “Kids don’t understand the concept of hepatitis C.”
Some weren’t surprised to find needles in the quaint neighborhood park. There’s another side of life in Olympia after dark, said Gerken, who encounters homeless drug users while working the graveyard security shift at a local hospital. He said many are simply looking for a quiet place.
Over at Capitol Lake, Charissa Shamley waded in ankle-deep water in search of litter. Shamley organized an all-ages crew of about 25 people for Saturday’s effort.
“Olympia is a nice place,” she said. “We need to clean it up and keep it beautiful.”
One of Shamley’s helpers was Dawn Workman, an avid Olympia Memes follower who marveled at the power of social networking to mobilize so many people for Saturday’s mass cleanup. Had the call to action come from government leaders, she said, the turnout might not have been as big.
“Olympia Memes has nothing to gain except a community coming together,” Workman said. “We want a better place to live and don’t want to wait for the politicians.”
Not all volunteers reported finding needles Saturday. However, they still picked up plenty of cigarette butts, food wrappers and other debris. Crews from 1-800-GOT-JUNK collected trash bags filled by the volunteers.
In west Olympia, another small group cleaned up a wooded area at Fern Street and Ninth Avenue. Tyrick Weyrauch, 14, came with his family from Tenino to help and was grossed out after bagging two dirty diapers.
Team leader Nikki Kennedy, who lives at the Fern Crest Apartments, said she was disheartened by the sight of trash that easily could have gone into nearby receptacles.
“There’s too much mess and not enough people to clean it up,” said Kennedy, acknowledging the limitations of the city to address the litter. “I just wish people would be more responsible.”
About 400 people were estimated to have participated Saturday. Big Whisky Saloon hosted a post-event celebration with pizza and prizes. Mayor Stephen Buxbaum was invited by Olympia Memes to address the volunteers who streamed into the celebration.
“I am particularly proud of this city, which I think is one of the most networked cities,” Buxbaum said. “You folks are an example of that — of turning out for your community and doing something positive.”
Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org