The local non-profit Gulfport Neighbors has been working by this ideology for five years, coordinating with the city to identify some of their projects, said Wolfgang Deininger, board officer.
Recently, “I approached a home that the city code enforcement officer talked to me about because the place was overgrown,” said Deininger. “I knocked on the door and said, ‘I’m here from the Gulfport Neighbors. We understand you’ve been cited and we’d like to come and trim this whole place down at no charge to you.’ Their mouths fell open.”
A mailing list of about 400 has volunteered at one time or another, said Margaret Tober, president of the organization.
“We send out periodic emails to let people know what’s going on. Some people like beach clean ups. Others love yard or home clean ups.”
A small group will typically work for two to three hours on a Saturday morning in cases where vegetation needs trimming, said Deininger. “It helps the people who live there and it helps to beautify Gulfport.”
The group does one about every two months, he said.
“When I moved here three years ago after my first week, I volunteered for a beach cleanup,” he said. “I had never volunteered for anything up north because I worked then went home. I like the Gulfport Neighbors because they just reach out and help other people. To me, that’s so fun because I had never done that.”
The group is celebrating its five-year anniversary, said Tober. Its motto is: Many hands and big hearts can make a difference.
“Technically, we started in 2011,” she said. “In 2012, the group went on a hiatus.”
Then, in 2013, Tober, Rose-Marie Seawall and Bev Newcomb started it again.
“I work from home and I wanted to find ways to get out and socialize,” said Karen Vanderbeek, treasurer. “When I first moved down here, I followed and liked everything Gulfport on Facebook. I love the idea of helping. The first time I volunteered, I did a clean up on the beach all the way up through Clymer Park.”
One of the big events the group sponsors is Junk in the Trunk. It helps Gulfport residents “swap, trash or give away old stuff,” according to the group’s website.
“I love it because there is music there,” said Stacey Purcell, board secretary. “People are coming in and out. They’re dropping off junk and picking up treasures. And, everybody’s interacting. In Gulfport, we can repurpose so many things and we do. We make it art.”
Being semi-retired, board officer Albert Theis says the group is an outlet for him to give back. “I enjoy the clean ups on the beach because of the very different people who come and help.”
Tober originally got involved in Gulfport Neighbors because her parents instilled volunteerism in her, she said. “The organization is available to help people when they need help. We help to make their lives easier.”
In the near future, the Gulfport Neighbors will rollout a new project called Bright Idea, said Purcell.
“Once a month, the group will help seniors and people with disabilities change light bulbs, hang a picture, change a battery in a smoke detector and do things that are out of reach so they don’t have to step on a chair or something that’s not safe,” she said.
Find the group on Facebook at facebook.com/gulfportneighbors or call Tober at 727-698-9471.
A Gulfport Beach and area cleanup will be held on Saturday, September 9 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Meet at pavilion number 4 on Gulfport Beach.
The 4th annual Mayors’ 49th Street Cleanup & 3rd Annual Chiefs’ Chat will be held Saturday, October 7 at Tangerine Greenway, located at 49th Street S. and Tangerine Avenue S. Registration will be from 8:15 a.m. to 8:55 a.m. At 9 a.m., Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson and the mayor of St. Petersburg will welcome the volunteers and at 10:30 a.m., the police chiefs from both cities will answer questions.