After a year of being shut in due to COVID-19, it was time for Keep North Attleboro Beautiful’s 450 registered volunteers to get out there again.
Saturday’s town-wide cleanup, canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus lockdown, was a “modified” version of previous years’ efforts, according to the organization’s executive director Marsha Goldstein. But the joy and spirit of the event was just as prominent.
Volunteers still had to wear face masks when around others and follow social distancing regulations, but the day’s pleasant weather conditions gave an added boost to those who were already eager to be outdoors.
“We definitely missed it last year,” said volunteer Tim Hutchins, a committee member and leader of Boy Scout Troop 33, who was among a sizable group tackling the two-mile loop of John Dietsch and Toner boulevards to Towne Street. “The town definitely needs it after a year of not picking up.”
In the large lot adjacent to Answer Is Fitness, the land was noticeably covered in trash.
Undaunted, the scouts and others tackled the area with aplomb.
Caleb Rogers, 11, of North Attleboro, was disgusted by a half-empty beer can he found in the vacant lot.
Still, Rogers was eager to be outside and doing his part in cleaning up litter, having been sad at the pandemic shutdown’s cancellation of last year’s event.
“It helps me know I’m doing something to help with the community,” he said.
The adults were no less happy to be back in the cleanup game again, and just as annoyed at the amount of rubbish.
And a new, but subsequent result of the pandemic was also found amid the usual litter — used face masks.
“I’m surprised as how bad this area is right here,” Jerry Theroux of North Attleboro said. “It makes you think of how many people have to litter to make it this bad.”
Granted, it was an extra year of accumulating litter, but Theroux and other adults participating in the cleanup shared a sense of irritation.
“It takes a conscious effort to throw something out your car window,” Theroux said.
On Landry Avenue, a few blocks from the high school and middle school campus, Amy Arnold and Heather McCarron, both of North Attleboro, found alcohol nip bottles, vaping pens, plastic water bottles, various plastic wrapping paper and “a lot” of McDonald’s bags.
To the horror of both women, there were even bags of human waste by the side of the road.
And ironically, a medium-sized kitchen trash bin.
“It doesn’t surprise me that there’s still such a mess here,” sighed Arnold.
McCarron, who was participating in the cleanup for the first time, found herself being drawn closer to nature as she noticed the plants and trees around her while picking up trash.
“I feel really good about doing something for the earth,” she said. “You notice more around us and appreciate it more, and you want to go out and tell people, ‘Everything is a miracle, and you’re trashing it up.’”
In addition to the adult women’s unpleasant earlier find, Molly Arnold and her friends, among whom was McCarron’s 15-year-old daughter Kathryn, found a pornography DVD discarded near a housing complex.
Bubble wrap, beer cans and soda cans were also found by the teenagers.
“It accumulates so fast,” Arnold said. “I feel like we just cleaned up, and a few days after, there’s rubbish there again.”
Across town, Claire Cooper and P.J. Mitchell took on their neighborhood from Broadway to Metcalf Road.
It was also the first year of participation for the married couple who moved to North Attleboro two years ago.
“People think the waste department manages every bit of waste on the ground, but it’s up to you to keep everything looking as nice as it can,” Cooper said.
After at least an hour of picking up nip bottles, beer cans and cigarette butts, Cooper was a bit frustrated at the inconsideration of some people.
“(Managing litter) is a big component of personal responsibility,” she said.
Cooper and Mitchell, however, were cheered by the satisfaction of seeing their own work, as well as the efforts of others.
“It’s a fresh start, at least for today, and it’s knowing that today, there’s a group of people out there who are trying to better the place they live in.”
Even with an extra year’s worth of litter in town, Goldstein was proud of all of the volunteers, right down to the official town workers who hauled away the trash bags.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to get back out there,” Goldstein said. “We’re thrilled that people are still enthusiastic about pitching in.”
There is also a relaunch of Litter Busters, an affiliate of Keep North Attleboro Beautiful, for those who wish to maintain trash pickup year-round in their own neighborhoods. For more information, visit keepmabeautiful.com.