By the Rev. Darlene L. Kelley
POMARIA—We squirm to navigate the armholes of our Day-Glo orange safety vests and pick up our green bags. Pumping the handles of our also-orange “garbage grabbers” that look a bit like giant lobster claws, we make our way along the edge of Mount Pleasant Road, amazed at how much litter lines the asphalt.
“This is the third empty bottle of bourbon since the corner,” I complain, and someone echoes a bounty of beer bottles from the other side of the road.
“Bud Light over here,” Kevin Morris, chair of the Staff-Pastor Relations Committee and champion litter remover, confides. “Bud Light and Mountain Dew.”
A sofa cushion and three tires require the attention of the boldest crewmembers, and three volunteers leap across the small embankment that borders the woods where the tires have been rolled. They push the tires, one by one, back across the embankment and up to the edge of the two-lane rural road to be placed in the back of the church bus and hauled away.
On the second scheduled clean-up day, the bus is not available, and as the pastor, I take on the responsibility of picking folks up as they walk farther and farther along and their bags get heavier and heavier. I feel a little guilty that some of my shuttling and supply retrieval keeps me from working harder, so I try to compensate by finding a bend where the pickings are abundant. I park in an abandoned driveway that leads to high weeds and venture back and forth hunting litter, watching for traffic and relishing the satisfaction of making one corner of the world a little nicer to look at.
There is a lovely moment of quiet contentment when I think of God smiling at our efforts, and I mumble a short prayer of thanks and hope. I am impressed that most of the people who worked on our first litter pick-up have returned to work again on our second, and I am grateful for these good, hardworking, faithful people and have to mumble another short prayer before focusing all my efforts on a half-buried detergent container soaking into the landscape. I can hear the distant voices of more Methodists up ahead, and the sound of the trailer setting off for the next spot, filling up with the green bags we’ve packed.
We concentrate on our own road, but a lovely side road needs attention too, and volunteers start to notice patterns. Folks throw more litter out at the corners. The junctions and the spots where you have to slow down to make allowances or round a bend look messiest, too. Some lengths of road are litter-free, well maintained perhaps by the closest houses and the most conscientious neighbors, but other spots need a good bit of care. Strewn full of cans caught in the vines, fast food wrappers hiding in the grass and bottles half buried in the soft ground, some stretches need extra cleansing.
Why do people throw cans and bottles and just any old thing out the window? Maybe some things land by accident, like that scrunched up plastic bag, half hidden under the back seat, that suddenly flies out the window on that first warm day you wind the passenger’s side down. Other piles of litter and discarded remnants make you wonder what folks are doing on the road. Two pickle jars, a shoe and three crumbling bits of old cooler ignite the imagination before being stuffed in a bag.
The bags themselves come from Palmetto Pride, which per their website, www.palmettopride.org, is South Carolina’s “anti-litter and beautification organization created by the legislature to fight litter and keep our state clean, green and beautiful.” Palmetto Pride supplies vests and gloves and even bags with holes to let the water stream through so you clean up the edges of a pond. Their website explains their primary goal is to engage citizens to take responsibility for litter prevention, but they have also helped more than 588,000 volunteers remove 71 million pounds of litter from our roads and natural areas.
Any church looking to do a spring litter pick up can contact Palmetto Pride and get help with the basics. Their website includes a section on grants for nonprofits and educational possibilities, as well.
Making the community a cleaner, healthier place seems a worthy goal, and we are grateful to be of service and a bit shinier at the Mount Pleasant UMC.
Just think of the impact if every United Methodist church in the conference sponsored a litter clean-up. That might make God smile, indeed.
Kelley pastors Mount Pleasant UMC, Pomaria.