Although billed as a joint mayoral cleanup, organizers and many of the 125-plus volunteers who swept 49th Street for litter Saturday morning say the morning was about more than trash. What mattered to many of the participants was the unification of both sides of the street.
“I think the cleanup was a monumental first step in breaking down barriers, changing perceptions and establishing a working relationship that is mutually beneficial to the residents on both sides of 49th Street,” Childs Park Neighborhood Association president Brother John Muhammad said.
“It is about more than litter,” Gulfport Neighbors president Margarete Tober said. “It is about community collaboration. We hope that Saturday’s event leads to further social and economic collaboration. The time is right, the political climate is right, let us make this the start of new beginnings. We are and should only be divided by four lanes of asphalt-nothing else.”
Childs Park Teen Council, Gulfport Little League, Childs Park Neighborhood Association and Westminster Heights Neighborhood Association turned out for the Gulfport Neighbors-organized cleanup.
The turnout pleasantly surprised the Gulfport Neighbors.
“It brought tears of joy,” Tober said. “There were more people than I ever expected.”
Although So49, the business group allegedly representing 49th Street businesses, did not send any volunteers or materially participate in the cleanup, President Jeri Reed offered “good wishes,” according to Tober and told the group she would attend “in spirit.”
In all, volunteers collected over 200 pounds of trash, which often came in the form of drug baggies, cigarette butts and snack wrappers.
“When you consider it is mostly paper, plastic and Styrofoam cups, soda and beer cans and bottles, cigarette butts and drug paraphernalia, I think it is a great deal of trash,” Tober said.
Jason Pelszynski, one of the few 49th Street business owners who participated in the cleanup (The Gabber and the Sharp Edge barber shop offered rest areas, water and bathroom facilities along the route), said the joint effort was long overdue.
“It’s about time we pulled together for something like this. While there’s always going to be trash and all of it isn’t going to end up in the can, we can do more together than apart to keep 49th Street tidy,” he said. “The cleanup helped promote a unified approach to the issue and I hope it can make a difference along this bustling business corridor. And keeping this neighborhood clean and tidy can not only boost the image from the public’s perspective but can also help encourage a sense of pride from residents and other business owners.”
St. Petersburg’s new police chief, Anthony Holloway, participated in the cleanup, as did Gulfport Police Chief Rob Vincent. When presented with complaints about the Quick Stop and neighboring wig store, Holloway went inside both stores and promised “we’ll be out here next week.”
Holloway said he wanted to get the mobile substation to the parking lot of the Quick Stop for officers roll call. He also promised to review certain business practices at the store in regards to alcohol consumption.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman told the crowd at the start of the cleanup, “We’re just separated by a street,” adding, “It’s about time we started paying attention to it.”
Holloway, along the cleanup route, mused over the divide between the two cities.
“How do we take down this border?” he said. “It’s going to take the community.”
After Saturday’s cleanup, residents and businesses from both sides of the street talked about future joint projects.
“I know it’s only been a few days since we were out there with our bags, pickers and gloves,” Pelszynski said Tuesday afternoon, “but I can tell you honestly that the street is still gleaming and I haven’t had to clean up the usual weekend debris that normally accumulates in front of the studio. Let’s do more of these!”
“We are interested in developing joint ventures with the Childs Park Neighborhood Association and Gulfport teen councils to address some of the concerns and challenges that face our youth in the near future,” he told the Gabber. “I think it would be great to work with the future leaders, groom them and allow them to determine the ‘next steps’ because any plan or idea for the future must include them.”
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.