CHICAGO — A group of local environmentalists that organizes cleanups cleared Chicago’s streets, river banks and areas near train tracks of more than 6,000 pounds of garbage this year.
Cleanup Club Chicago launched in July 2020. Founder and director Katherine Tellock said she got the idea from the summer cleanup challenge organized by Friends of the Chicago River for cleaning the city’s neighborhoods. Tellock attended, but once it finished, she decided to keep the effort going.
Tellock and Miranda Carrico recruited clean-up helpers through social media, connecting with people posting about single-use plastics in their neighborhoods and trying to clean up trash individually. Now the club has about 230 members, half of whom are regularly active.
The club meets around twice a month in various neighborhoods and collects trash in public areas that “nobody really owns” and that the city doesn’t manage to clear, Tellock said.
The group decides which areas to tackle based on members’ requests, but now Tellock and Carrico, the organization’s assistant director, have six “captains” — two on the North Side, two on the West Side and two on the South Side — who “keep an eye open” and report if there’s a particular area that needs to be cleaned.
“We mainly clean boulevards sections, and highway areas and ramps, areas along train tracks,” she said. “This year, we also organized three cleanups of the river.”
The Cleanup Club met for 18 group cleanups and launched seven individual challenges in 2020. That enabled families with children to participate when group meetings weren’t feasible.
The members collected 6,430 pounds of trash, Tellock said.
This year’s success was also possible because of a community grant the club received from My Block, My Hood, My City. The money helped the group buy trash grabbers, supplies and kayak rentals for volunteers to clean the river.
The Cleanup Club will be on hiatus soon for the winter, but Tellock said she hopes to organize more events and apply for more grants. She said they’d like to eventually become a nonprofit so they can accept donations.
Besides being a perfect outdoor pandemic activity, Tellock said the Cleanup Club was “empowering.”
“I think it encourages people to keep going and be a part of something that is bigger than them,” she said.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: