The sun shone brightly on Kensington’s McPherson Square last week as Mayor Michael Nutter joined elected officials and a cadre of hard-working local volunteers to announce this year’s fifth annual Philly Spring Cleanup.
The yearly event, a citywide volunteer effort to clean and green the City of Brotherly Love, will be held on Saturday, April 14.
“We are going to make sure that this year’s cleanup is the biggest and best ever,” the mayor told a gathered crowd on the afternoon of March 6.
Since the beginning of the Philly Spring Cleanup initiative, Nutter said, about 45,000 volunteers have helped gather 5.8 million pounds of trash.
Nutter also summoned Ray Gant, a Frankford resident who for seven years has been a community project manager at the park at 601 E. Indiana Ave., to celebrate his work.
The park has long been known as “needle park” — used drug paraphernalia once littered the area — and Gant said that when he started cleanups there, volunteers filled buckets with dirty, dangerous drug needles.
“When I first got here, we were putting the needles in these red biohazard buckets, and I’m telling you, we filled ’em up,” said Gant. “This isn’t just about cleaning and making things green, it’s about health. I think this does lower crime. You really can see people acting differently.”
City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez (D-7th dist.) also praised the volunteers for their hard work and thanked the mayor for making the trip to a park like McPherson Square, which has had such a troubled history.
“Finally we are getting some attention over here at McPherson,” she said. “If folks organize, the government is going to respond.”
Quiñones-Sanchez touched on the crime problems that the community faces on a daily basis and promised that the recent gathering wasn’t just a hollow show of support.
“This isn’t about a press conference; we are here to stay,” said the councilwoman. “We are just as frustrated as you are about the bad things going on.”
Another City Council member in attendance, recently elected Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.), said he looks forward to working with the community.
“We need your eyes and ears to know what’s going on in the street,” he said. “In time, we will hold our heads up and say, ‘We did it.’”
Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor for environmental and community resources, told the audience that he hoped the event would show Kensington neighbors that their elected officials have a sincere interest to help improve thecommunity for everyone.
“It’s very important for folks in the neighborhood to feel like the city is at their service,” said DiBerardinis. “This cleanup effort can lift up … the work of all people.”
Amy Dougherty, executive director of the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia, said that McPherson Square’s cleanup has progressed with help from her group. The park includes one of the city’s remaining libraries built with funding from industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
“Our volunteers went home to home around the neighborhood (to get volunteers for cleanups),” said Dougherty. “The response has been unbelievable. We know that if you can get the neighborhoods involved, it helps the cleanups.” ••
This year’s citywide cleanup will be held on April 14 (raindate is Saturday, April 28). For more information or to register a local project, visit www.phillyspringcleanup.com.