Philadelphia is a city laden with litter on its streets and sidewalks. While the Philadelphia Streets Department outlines its sanitation expectations online, including penalties for not complying with these expectations, residents continue to leave trash on the ground.
“There’s a lot of trash, and it needs to be picked up,” said Christopher Lillis, director of operations for real estate developer LPMG Companies based in South Philadelphia. “And there needs to be awareness about self-policing your communities in that regard.”
One of the bars owned by LPMG Companies, American Sardine Bar, is located right at the heart of the neighborhood, at 1800 Federal St.
The bar, which has become a hub for the Point Breeze’s newer residents, was the site of a fundraiser on Tuesday, July 11 for Clean Point Breeze Streets, a grassroots litter removal program that began in August 2016.
Originally created as a pilot program, Clean Point Breeze Streets only covered the area between Alter and Federal streets and 18th and 23rd streets. Ready, Willing & Able, an organization that focuses on workforce re-entry, was contracted to provide trash removal services for the small section of the neighborhood.
Almost a full year after the project officially began, Clean Point Breeze Streets is getting ready to enter its second phase, which will extend from Alter to Reed and 17th to 24th.
Angela Val works as the chief administration officer at the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. Although this is her paid job, Val is also the program manager and founder of Clean Point Breeze Streets. After living in Point Breeze since December 2014, Val decided in 2016 that something had to be done about the neighborhood’s trash problem.
“I spent a lot of time sweeping my front stoop, and it eventually extended to my street,” Val said. “After a while I just felt overwhelmed by the amount of debris and litter and trash. I felt like I couldn’t keep it up, so I was trying to figure out how other neighborhoods dealt with it.”
She didn’t have to look far for insight.
“My husband found Ready, Willing & Able, who did a similar kind of cleanup program in Graduate Hospital, before it was the Graduate Hospital we know and love today,” she explained. “So I reached out to their executive director, asked him if he would meet with me, told him what my issue was, and he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We picked 10 blocks that I knew, and that’s how it got started.”
Initially, Val needed to raise $5,000 to pay for Ready, Willing & Able to clean the 10-block area. According to Val, many members of the program are from Point Breeze, so she was afforded a discounted rate for the first phase of the project.
Val knew that she could initially take her project to the next level when Ready, Willing and Able received grant money to work on Clean Point Breeze Streets and later when people started to take notice of the cleanup being done.
In addition to the recent fundraiser held at American Sardine Bar, Val has also started a GoFundMe page which has raised more than $5,000 in the past two months. The goal is to raise $20,000 for the second phase, but Val explained that if she can reach $10,000 by the end of July, she will be able to expand the project and raise the other $10,000 within the next six months.
While the project will focus directly on Point Breeze, Val hopes that the initiative will impact other neighborhoods throughout the city as well.
“What I hope to do is to create a model that other people can follow in their neighborhood,” Val said.
One of the most important impacts Val hopes her project makes is for people to hire the services of Ready, Willing and Able.
Javier Rivera is currently the director of community improvement projects and operations at Ready, Willing & Able. Rivera, who has worked for the organization in Philadelphia for 17 years, graduated from the program in Harlem, N.Y. in 1997. He has gone from homeless due to addiction to raising a family with his wife and two children.
According to Rivera, it’s important to note that Ready, Willing & Able is not a treatment center but rather a program that allows those who have struggled with addiction, homelessness or crime to give back to the community and prepare to re-enter the workforce.
Rivera spoke at the American Sardine Bar fundraiser on July 11.
“I told them we could guarantee safe streets, and working with our partners at the Department of Sanitation, this thing about dumping would be addressed,” Rivera said. “Removing trash bags, pointing out nuisance, being the eyes and ears of the project itself are some of the ways we plan to improve the quality of life for people who live around there.”
Rivera hopes the neighbors of Point Breeze will follow the example being set by Ready, Willing & Able’s services since they aren’t working in the neighborhood around the clock. He hopes that the visual difference made by the project’s restorative work, such as power washing, will incentivize citizens to be more careful about leaving trash on the streets.
Mallory Fix Lopez, a resident of Point Breeze and owner of On Point Bistro, hopes to see a change in the neighborhood so her 22-month-old son can grow up to learn that trash doesn’t belong on the ground.
“I think it’s a huge concern,” Fix Lopez said. “It’s one of my biggest concerns because you do what you see, and so if he sees that trash is just there, then it’s a norm for him to think that every street has bottles and bottles and bottles all down it.”
The second phase of Clean Point Breeze Streets is expected to begin in fall 2017.
-Text and images by Jonathan Ginsburg,