The outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States has changed the way most Americans live, work and play, but one organization is making it possible for people to make a difference in their community while staying safe.
Medical professionals and government entities agree that social distancing, or the practice of avoiding contact with other people in order to reduce the chance of disease transmission, needs to be practiced wherever possible to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb issued several executive orders, including a stay-at-home order, to reduce the virus’ spread in the state. Only “essential” government services, businesses and other operations are allowed to stay open, keeping as many people as possible from coming into contact with others.
Indianapolis-based Keep Indianapolis Beautiful is working within those bounds to keep communities clean by arranging the Great Indy Virtual Cleanup.
Normally, April is KIB’s busiest month. The organization usually schedules 150 projects including litter abatement, tree plantings, habitat restoration and invasive plant removal, but those have all been postponed for health reasons and the Governor’s order.
“It’s been a very interesting time, because April is usually when we have our most volunteers for the year, especially for cleanups,” said Gerardo Ruiz Tovar, Great Indy Cleanup program manager for Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. “People are itching to get out for the spring and do some spring cleanup, along with tree plantings, so with Gov. Holcomb’s order to stay at home, it’s really limited us and our capacity to clean up the community.”
The organization said its projects the past two years have led to the collection of about 3.98 million pounds of litter collected from Indianapolis streets over the past two years. That comes to about 187 pounds of litter per volunteer.
The group may not be able to match previous litter collection goals, but Ruiz Tovar said there will still be an opportunity for Indianapolis residents to contribute to their city’s beautification, albeit on an extremely limited scale.
The group will hold the Great Indy Virtual Cleanup, an event where Indianapolis residents and beyond can do their part by cleaning up litter in their immediate vicinity while practicing social distancing.
“Basically, on April 1, for 15 minutes at 12:15pm people can go around their house or backyard or property where they live and just pick up trash,” said Ruiz Tovar. “It’s just coming together as a community for this effort in order to not let things go undone, and to show that we care.”
In 2018, the Indiana Department of Transportation spent $7.65 million, or a quarter of its roadside management budget on litter and debris collection.
The volunteers’ cleanup efforts could also reduce the amount of money state and municipal governments spend to beautify their jurisdictions, freeing up scarce assets for use in other areas.
“It feels great to do something for the community and invite each other to take action together,” said Ruiz Tovar. “Having this kind of movement, even though it’s done individually, can still get to the heart of what the Great Indy Cleanup is all about.”
Ruiz Tovar said anyone interested in volunteering to be a part of the Great Indy Virtual Cleanup can register online or by post a photo of their cleanup online and tagging @kibiorg and using the hashtags #GreatIndyCleanUp and #EveryLitterBit.
“April is Earth month, and this is a small piece of the puzzle,” said Ruiz Tovar. “And so if you enjoy picking up trash and keeping your community clean, consider joining Keep Indianapolis Beautiful in this effort.”