Everyone in the neighborhood knows Mary Dantzler won't tolerate trash on the sidewalks or in the streets. A homeowner in Druid Heights for 15 years, she sweeps every day and believes along the way she's cleaning out all sorts of other urban ills.
"I've stayed on the job with a broom," said Dantzler, who was out Saturday morning with a couple of dozen other neighbors, business owners and church members to pick up in some other corners and alleys.
They joined about 2,000 people in 124 Baltimore neighborhoods who were participating in the city's fall cleanup day. In addition to collecting old food wrappers and plastic bottles, they hoped to build an anti-littering ethic in a town where many still don't think twice about tossing waste onto the street or out of the car window.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who planned to tour at least four neighborhoods, said at a stop at Middle Branch Park that much of the trash abandoned in far corners of the city ends up in the Inner Harbor, the Patapsco River and other Chesapeake Bay tributaries through storm drains.
The city and community groups have been trying to spread the word that it's not only unsightly but also costly for workers to collect — and the city is under federal mandate to clean it from the waterways.
"We need to get to it at the source," Rawlings-Blake said. "We're trying to do everything we can to raise awareness."
Many of the people at Middle Branch Park — popular with walkers, fishermen and rowers — came from around the city and surrounding counties to comb the riverbank for garbage. Linda Young-Koza lives in Anne Arundel County but works at nearby Harbor Hospital. She said she can see the trash building everyday and has been "itching to pick it all up."
Kelly Bowles, a University of Maryland law student, and her husband Matt Spalding, a Maryland Institute College of Art student, said they wanted to help out their adoptive city.
Bowles said Spalding used to organize neighborhood cleanups when he was a kid in Kentucky. A member herself of a service group that provides aid in post-Katrina New Orleans, Bowles said this was her first organized project in Baltimore. They filled a big brown bag with diapers, plastic foam and plastic bottles in under an hour.
"There should be some aspect of accountability," said Spalding. "Walmart uses those chips to follow their merchandise through the supply chain. We should be able to do that with this stuff — trace it back."
Back in Druid Heights, where an active community and development organization has been working for decades, neighbors are going beyond street cleaning. They build houses, reclaim lots for gardens, keep watch over the kids and encourage a sense of pride in the place.
Demetrius Mallisham, the liaison to Druid Heights from the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods, helps get cracked sidewalks and broken water mains fixed and abandoned piles of waste removed. He said the Druid Heights Community Development Corp. has set an example not only for the rest of the neighborhood, but also for other neighborhoods in the city.
Anthony Pressley, director of community resources for the Druid Heights group, said no one wants to live in, let alone move to, a bad neighborhood.
"The community used to be a filthy place, and the key to the turnaround was when the neighbors saw an organization investing, they did their part," he said. "It's an 85 to 90 percent clean neighborhood on a daily basis."
As he toured street after clean street and lot after clean lot on Saturday, he pointed out a mother-and-daughter cleanup team, Patricia Neal and Tiffany Jamison, as well as a local pastor and the owner of a local business, who spent the morning on the job. They picked up trash on their own streets and their neighbors' and loaded it into a truck headed to the dump.
"Every day is cleanup day," said Neal.