Volunteers attack winter's detritus during annual Community Cleanup Day

[Updated April 14, 2019] 

Litter — the enemy of any clean community — has accumulated during winter months, but local residents fought back on Community Cleanup Day on Saturday, April 6.

On this sunny, warm spring day, eight organizations and dozens of volunteers fanned out across Homewood, Flossmoor and Olympia Fields to spruce up the area picking up the discarded bottles, cans, food containers and even used diapers that have piled up along roadways over the winter months.

Several crews of volunteers worked their way along streets in Olympia Fields. This is the first year the village has participated in the annual H-F event.

Susan Gowen, a member of the Olympia Fields Beautification Committee, and George Chandler, a member of the village's Economic Development Committee, de-littered Kedzie Avenue from the train station to Vollmer Road.

"It's interesting what you find," Gowen said. She found a lawn ornament and a golf ball, in spite of the distance from Olympia Fields Country Club. "Most of it's just people not wanting to carry their trash, and they just toss it out," she said.

Nearby, Irons Oaks Environmental Learning Center Director Cheryl Vargo led a team including Irons Oaks Foundation board member Yoka Ward and volunteer Laura Konrath. More volunteers were arriving as the three began picking up trash along Western Avenue just south of Vollmer Road.

Vargo said the hours put in by volunteers would pay off not only in cleaning up the Irons Oaks area but also would contribute to a matching grant that will help with the organization's reforestation effort.

The challenge grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation requires Irons Oaks to contribute $7,000 and 400 volunteer hours. ICECF will triple the monetary contribution, providing $21,000 to help pay for trees, supplies and planting services. 

If the Irons Oaks Foundation meets the volunteer goal, ICECF will add $4,000 to the grant.

"They are willing to support the efforts of restoration if you can engage your community," Vargo said. "The Irons Oaks Foundation has been up to the challenge. We're up to 120 hours of volunteerism, and that's over the winter months. We're positive we're going to get to (400 hours), but every hour helps."

The next opportunity for residents to pitch in will be April 27, when the foundation is planning an Arbor Day tree planting event. Anyone interested in volunteering can call 708-481-2330 or email Vargo at [email protected] for more information.

Dave Ward, who coordinated cleanup efforts for the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District, reported that more than two dozen people had gathered at Flossmoor village hall to help with litter pickup and tree planting. Flossmoor spokeswoman Amy Kent said Flossmoor has 70 volunteers all told. They worked on cleaning up seven areas across the community.

"Additionally, we hosted our annual spring tree planting event and with a crew of four professional landscapers were able to plant 55 trees," she said.

At Park Place, Flossmoor Green Commission member Carrie Malfeo was helping nine Homewood-Flossmoor High School students sort and repackage seeds for the Flossmoor Seed Library.

The seeds were donated to help the library grow, but Malfeo said the goal is to eventually be more self-sustaining, with local gardeners harvesting seeds from their gardens to replenish the library's collection.

Jasmine Sahagun volunteered to help with the seed library because she wanted to learn more about how it works.

"I did this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, too," she said.  "My grandpa has a garden at home, so it's always been an interest in our family. It's interesting to see how the library works."

The seed library is located on the first floor of the Flossmoor Public Library. Malfeo said there will be a meet and greet session from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 13, for people who are interested in learning more about the seed library.

Allisa Opyd, events manager for Homewood, led a small crew along Harwood Avenue from Ridge Road to 183rd Street. Opyd said the weather was a big help in making the event a success. She recalled how last year the litter pickup had to be cancelled because of icy conditions.

"This year we're so fortunate. It's a true spring day, a perfect way to kick off spring cleaning," she said. 

Opyd and Homewood Tree Committee member Janet Hernandez were starting their work in downtown Homewood when Camson Addenuga stopped to ask what they were doing.

"We said it's part of the H-F area community clean up. He said, 'Where do I sign up?'" Opyd said, and the crew grew by 50 percent.

Projects around schools were handled by groups coordinated by Flossmoor School District 161, Homewood School District 153 and Prairie State College. And groups were out picking up litter at the Izaak Walton Nature Preserve in Homewood.

Photos by Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle except as noted.

Correction: George Chandler's name was incorrect in the original version of this story. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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