(Screengrab from video)

By David Marshall
Special to the AFRO

After 30 minutes of volunteering, 12-year-old Destiny Smith of West Baltimore finally has the hang of operating her blue trash picker, which is just about as tall as she is. The Green Street Academy sixth-grader has been cleaning up near the corner of Bloom Street and Druid Hill Avenue. She said working the picker is almost as difficult as her math class.

“I think the candy wrappers are harder to grab than the soda cans. You have to keep turning the handle to get the angle right. Then it is easy to put the stuff in the trash bag,” Smith said.

Volunteer Ronald Miles of Reservoir Hill readiness his broom to help out with the 7/11 Druid Heights Community Clean Up October 10, 2020.

Smith and her friends from the youth advocacy group, The Tree House Project, are part of an army of nearly 100 masked-up people who turned out for the 7/11 Druid Heights Community Clean Up Saturday. Baltimore City Council Districts 7 and 11 join forces each fall to help spruce up the area. Druid Heights spans both council districts.

Members of Volunteering Untapped tackle planting and clearing at a lot on Division and Gold Streets during the 7/11 Druid Heights Community Clean Up October 10, 2020.

“We know that in West Baltimore we still deal with sanitation issues, especially illegal dumping,” said City Councilman Leon Pinkett. “This is a time for the community to come together, but also volunteers from all around the region to help support greening, cleaning and planting to bring some hope to the Druid Heights community.”

According to the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation there are roughly 13,000 people who live in the neighborhood. The DHCDC said the neighborhood sees more than its fair share of crime, poverty and boarded up buildings. For them, marshaling a team of volunteers is not just about neighborhood beautification.

“There are a lot of people who care about Druid Heights,” said community organizer Tavon Benson, who works for the DHCDC and has lived in Druid Heights for 15 years.

Volunteers plant a line of trees near the corner of Gold and Division Streets during the 7/11 Druid Heights Community Clean Up October 10, 2020.

“People who live in this neighborhood care about what happens here. Our feeling is even though COVID is an obstacle, no issue should be able to stop our progress. Seeing all these people out here raises community spirits and shows we care.”

Members of Volunteering Untapped tackle planting and clearing at a lot on Division and Gold Streets during the 7/11 Druid Heights Community Clean Up October 10, 2020.

Hampden resident Claire Costantino came out to help. She’s with the nonprofit group Volunteering Untapped. The organization spent the day removing trash, planting trees and cleaning alleys. Their team filled 18 bags of trash.

Volunteers discuss their plan of action at the Maggie Quille Druid Heights Community Center during the 7/11 Druid Heights Community Clean Up October 10, 2020.

“We are a town that really needs people to care about it,” Costantino said. “The picking up of trash, to be honest, is just the gateway. Today is really all about the people that you meet, learning about other good organizations and getting people out of their houses to do some good.”

A team from Volunteering Untapped clears trash from Stoddard Alley during the 7/11 Druid Heights Community Clean Up October 10, 2020.

Trash pickup in Baltimore has slowed during the pandemic, leading to intermittent breaks of some services including recycling. Councilman Eric Costello said even with COVID-19 challenges, much of what Druid Heights and other communities are seeing has little to do with the pandemic.

A pile of trash clear from an alley awaits collection at Druid Hill Avenue and Gold Street during the 7/11 Druid Heights Community Clean Up October 10, 2020.

“Our folks in sanitation work incredibly hard,” Costello said. “It’s not reasonable for us to expect the Department of Public Works to handle all of this illegal dumping. It is not just a DPW issue. It is an enforcement issue and an education issue. Contractors should know they can bring their trash to one of our transfer stations. They don’t have to dump trash on someone’s vacant property.” 

Meanwhile, SEED School eighth-grader Khayia Brown, working alongside Smith, struggles to drag her overstuffed trash bag to the trash collection spot. 

David Marshall

“I feel good about being here,” Brown said. “It was hard work, but I think we did a good job.”

David Marshall is professor and chair of the Department of Strategic Communication in The School of Global Journalism & Communication at Morgan State University.

**More photos of from this community event will be added**