Community clean-up makes a difference ‘One Street at a Time’

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Todd Owens and his volunteer crew have been picking up trash in Lakeside – one street at a time – for almost a year and a half now.

So, is this working – is Lakeside any cleaner now than it was in July 2017?

“I think so,” said Todd, just before he let out on his continuing quest to make his community a little better place to live. “I mean, we were picking up 100 bags of trash every time at first. Now, we’re averaging about 30 bags a day. So I think we’re having an impact.”

Todd Owens and his volunteer crew have been picking up trash in Lakeside – one street at a time – for almost a year and a half now.

So, is this working – is Lakeside any cleaner now than it was in July 2017?

“I think so,” said Todd, just before he let out on his continuing quest to make his community a little better place to live. “I mean, we were picking up 100 bags of trash every time at first. Now, we’re averaging about 30 bags a day. So I think we’re having an impact.”

It all began with an innocent question that Todd had asked of Supervisor Dianne Jacob back in early 2017: “What are you going to do about all the trash on Lakeside streets?”

Jacob piped back: “What are you going to do about it, Todd?”

And so began “One Street at a Time,” a homegrown, neighborhood volunteer effort to cleanup and beautify the community. Todd took the question to heart and literally ran with it.

The first event was held July 22, 2017, from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. The pattern has been repeated nearly every month since then.

On that first day, 35 people showed up and gathered 85 bags of trash from several square blocks of the Downtown Lakeside area.

Two months later, the project had 88 trash pickers and collected 100 bags.

Todd keeps the project going monthly, though things like holiday weekends and the weather can sometimes result in postponements.

The average turnout is between 35 and 50 folks.

They move about Lakeside for two hours, picking up everything from cigarette butts and paper bags to large furniture and discarded clothing.

“The community has been great about donating what we need,” said Todd, referring to Rock & Block Hardscape Supply, Mary’s Donuts, the Auto Zone, Lakeside’s Chamber of Commerce and many, many others.

“One Street” has been supplied with gloves, trash pickers, plastic bags and cans, and the like. “It’s really been able to sustain itself, with all the help we are getting,” he said.

Owens said he plans to continue the project for as long as he can.

Todd is the Director of Maintenance and Transportation for the Lakeside Unified School District. He has not missed an event. He usually brings his wife and children along as well – and they seem to enjoy it.

“I love doing this,” said Jessica Owens, Todd’s 15-year-old daughter, a sophomore at El Capitan High School. She often brings her friends along to help.

Though new faces show up every event, there are a number of “regulars” who are always on hand to help with the cleanup. Todd gets to the gathering site early – which is in the parking lot in front of the Auto Zone at 12421 Woodside Avenue – to setup up his base camp and greet everyone as they arrive. At about 8:00 a.m., he gets the crowd’s attention and issues the orders for the day, but not before thanking all who have donated their time and effort to improve Lakeside’s look.

Minutes later, the volunteers fan out and start picking up trash. Once their bright orange trash bags are full, the volunteers place them at the curb and start filling another one. Todd patrols the target area and gathers the full bags into his truck for later deposit into a large trash dumpster.

Todd and his crew have seen some interesting things in town during those early Saturday mornings.

“Last month, we found a big pile of trash over off of Channel Drive,” he said. “We thought it was trash. It had a tarp over it. When we started to pick it up, some guy jumped out from the bottom of the pile. He was sleeping under it. That kind of startled us.”

This past summer, a volunteer cleaning up the “Cactus Garden” (surrounding the “Lakeside Historic District” sign next to the Burger King on Maine Avenue) found two halves of a torn $100 bill in the trash there. Further investigation (a trip to the bank) revealed the bill was counterfeit. It has been forwarded to the local secret service office for examination.

The One Street group will likely not have a cleanup in December – too many holidays to compete with – but they will be back in January.

The best way to find out about their next event is on the “One Street at a Time” Facebook page, which is also the best way to contact Todd. He is always looking for a little more help to keep people interested and apprised.

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