Volunteer trash crew hopes to bring broader change to York Road

Warm weather seems to bring chicken bones to a stretch of York Road in North Baltimore.

Other weeks, there seem to be a number of colored hypodermic needle caps. Then there are the miniature liquor bottles among the cigarette butts, plastic cups or plastic bottles strewn along the sidewalk and gutter.

“It’s seasonal trash,” Rosemary Richards said.

The 65-year-old Homeland woman was one of a group of core volunteers known as the “trash bashers” from St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church who braved the return of winter weather Saturday morning to sweep, rake and bag trash left along York Road. The group has met the second Saturday of every month for the past two years to clean their way from the church to Glenwood Avenue, several blocks south, as part of parish outreach to the community.

There is never a shortage of trash. Sometimes the volunteers will see people discarding cups or bottles where they’ve just cleaned. Still, they persevere as part of a broader effort to spark change along a neglected stretch of road between the Homeland and Mid-Govans neighborhoods.

“The church is part of the community,” said Lance Bendann, 72.

Bendann, a member of the parish for several decades, said the neighborhood, like others in the city, has struggled with crime and drugs. The storefronts along the 5300, 5400 and 5500 blocks of York Road are occupied mostly by restaurants, carryouts, a liquor store, a beauty supply shop and other small businesses.

Some merchants along the corridor have supported their efforts, Bendann said, but others contribute to the piles at curbs or do nothing to stop the littering.

The parish volunteers are working with business owners, neighborhood associations and other institutions, including nearby Loyola University Maryland, to draw attention to needs in the area.

Attacking the trash problem, Bendann said, seemed like an obvious way to unite different groups.

The 17 organizations that make up the informal York Road partnership recently secured a contract with The Arc of Central Maryland to provide regular cleaning throughout the week. The Arc provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities.

Bendann said his group of volunteers will continue monthly trash pickups to encourage other residents and nearby merchants to take part in voluntary cleanups and to help pay for the Arc’s services.

Jessica Mendoza, 62, said the project is one of many grassroots efforts to improve the city.

“I love Baltimore,” said Mendoza, who lives in Towson and attends St. Mary’s. While there are many problems and so much need, she said, there’s also tremendous potential. Picking up trash is “like planting a seed” to create something better along the street.

Members of the trash group acknowledge that the results of their cleanups can be short-lived.

“It looks nice for 12 hours. It looks a lot better than when we drove out here this morning,” Richards said. She and another volunteer, Donna Blackwell, 57, had just darted into the street before oncoming traffic to grab a few pieces of limp, wet cardboard before chucking them into waist-high trash bags.

While the sidewalk was mostly empty on the chilly morning, Blackwell said, the stretch is often very crowded with people. Some are simply hanging out on the corner, she said. And drug use is a problem. Many in the group have found the colored caps of syringes, Blackwell said.

But she and Richards said many passersby also stop and notice their work.

“It’s very gratifying,” she said.

Some will stop to talk to them, thank them, and even start picking up trash, she said.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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