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Baltimore fall cleanup finds Halloween theme in Reservoir Hill, swapping out debris with pumpkins

Volunteers Phuong Nguyen, left, and Waldis Cruz, who are Towson University students, rake leaves and pull weeds as part of the clean up the Reservoir Hill neighborhood on Fall Cleanup Day. October 26, 2019
Volunteers Phuong Nguyen, left, and Waldis Cruz, who are Towson University students, rake leaves and pull weeds as part of the clean up the Reservoir Hill neighborhood on Fall Cleanup Day. October 26, 2019 (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Neighborhood volunteers broke into smiles when they discovered a couple of old mattresses dumped in a Reservoir Hill alley. They also scored some construction debris and an artificial Christmas tree, its lights intact.

The weight of the discarded bedding added pounds to a goal community volunteers tried to achieve on a cleanup drive where the next heaviest debris was dried grass and a few early falling leaves.

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“We all come together every month to do the cleanup,” said Dorlene Ricks, the volunteer coordinator for the St. Francis Neighborhood Center on Linden Avenue.

The event was also coordinated Saturday with the Mayor’s Annual Fall Cleanup, a citywide event.

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Ricks assembled workers from the Whitelock Community Farm, the Friends of German Park and the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council, as well as Towson University students who want to perform community service.

The volunteers focused their cleanup efforts on the neighborhood park and urban farm along Whitelock Street at Brookfield Avenue. In 1994, the city demolished a grocery store and dry cleaners and other blighted businesses that neighborhood members said functioned as a drug bazaar.

When the old commercial heart of the neighborhood was cleared away, and criminal activity gone, the land became vacant and eventually found a new life as a popular urban farm and park.

Kimberly Raiker, the farm manager, watched as volunteers tidied the plots where crops had flourished over the summer.

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“They cleaned up the debris so that we can now plant garlic for the winter,” she said as she walked by rows of Swiss chard, small eggplants, red mustard and joi choi. “Our whole operation is run by volunteers and most of the cleaning up is done by visiting volunteers,” she said, noting that her growers had just harvested 40 pounds of garlic and plan to plant more.

The clean up attracted volunteers from Towson University. Waldis Cruz, a biology major from the Dominican Republic, said he donated his time as part of community service.

“I serve here or at Beans and Bread,” he said of the Bond Street homeless assistance program.

Kate Jennings, who directs the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council, said that while the cleanup was intended to keep the neighborhood, its parks and alleys clean, she wanted the event to have a seasonal feel. She got 75 pumpkins donated, many of them given by Sharp’s at Waterford Farm in Howard County.

“We wanted this to be a family event,” she said. “And we are defined as a food desert, so pumpkins need to be brought in.”

The cleanup volunteers each received a Halloween goody bag. It contained some candy, but also a toothbrush donated by the University of Maryland’s Dental School.

“The brush is a gesture toward the effect of giving out the candy,” said Jennings. “It’s also about being a mom.”

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