On a beautiful Sunday morning at Main and Kipp in downtown Chilliwack, there’s a flurry of activity noticeable from blocks away.
Drew Stevenson is scraping leftover bits of poster paper, glue and tape from a black light standard out front of Circa Vintage. He’s prepping it to be painted, hopefully one day soon.
Chris Franklin, who owns Michael’s on Main across the street, is down at street level working a garden bed, removing weeds and trash and turning over the bark mulch.
In an alleyway off Kipp that leads to the patio of Main Street Nightclub, Christine Drobot is using a picker-upper to gather up drug paraphernalia. There are needles, needle caps, and even excrement through these alleyways.
But it doesn’t deter these volunteers, and many others who have been answering the call put out by downtown business owner Amber Price.
A random and rotating roster of equally keen individuals have been joining her at 9:30 a.m. Sundays, where they hatch a plan for the morning.
It began about six weeks ago, with Price telling herself that she could be the change she wanted to see in the area.
She couldn’t keep watching the neglect from absent landlords, and the lack of action by the city to enforce bylaws about unsightly premises. She put her plan on Facebook and invited people to join her. Together, they would get out once a week, roll up their sleeves, and clean the streets in whatever way they could.
On this Sunday, that means a bit of everything. While Price talks about her wishes for her neighbourhood, she works out at least some of her frustrations by scraping out moss, grass and garbage from the cracks in the sidewalks and the edge of the roads.
While she’s thrilled to have the support of volunteers, and even local businesses who have supported the project by bringing the work crew treats, what she really wants is support from the city.
“We need manpower more than anything,” she says. But funding for supplies like paint brushes, buckets, garbage bags and gloves would go a long way to get more volunteers out. She even wonders if the city can’t create a job or two to support their work.
She’s filed several complaints with the city about building owners who aren’t keeping their properties clean. And there is property that is almost like no-man’s land. In a space not big enough for a full grown person, between two buildings, unbelievable garbage has been piling up, filling the gap. Kitty litter thrown from an apartment above. Old furniture. Needles and garbage and excrement from the sides. Trash blown through by the wind.
It was all in there, and one Sunday they managed to get it all out. Now, a Little Free Library is being planned for the space on at least one end, and creative solutions to block the gap are being brainstormed for the other end.
Price says the volunteer work is helping the community gain a feeling of pride and ownership, and she hopes to see more people coming out to help.
As she talks, a man on a bike cycles by and nods. They commonly receive gestures of thanks from the people who live, work and worship downtown.
It’s not an uncommon thing for volunteers to step in and help beautify a city. Volunteer Sam Rytter was part of a group who did the same thing, when he lived in Whalley, a suburb in Surrey. That group was supported by the city, he says, by providing those little things that add up.
He is working away at repainting the parking lot cement stops out front of PickEco Refills all the way to Did I Mention Flowers?
It’s elbow grease that he and all the others that day were happy to spend, to brighten up the downtown they love.
Price says that anyone who wants to pitch in can meet at the Mill Street parking lot at around 9 a.m. any Sunday. There is no commitment to keep coming back, she adds.
“It’s not the most fun,” she laughs.
She asks people to bring items like brooms, dustpans, gardening implements, garbage bags, water, and garden gloves.
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