Lending a hand

MARSHALL – Their mission was pretty straightforward: Split into groups. Work together. Have a designated collector for plastic shopping bags, one for fast-food containers and one for everything else.

“There’s a lot of cardboard and random stuff,” said Southwest Minnesota State University student Nate Stafki, as he helped carry a bulging “everything else” bag through the vacant lot between Pizza Ranch and Menards on Thursday afternoon.

Volunteers like Stafki, ranging from Marshall residents to university students and local 4-H kids, fanned out across the lot. Armed with bright yellow trash bags, they picked up the bits of plastic, food wrappers and other litter caught in the grass.

“It’s about working on some of the little things in Marshall,” GreenCorps member Melinda Kawalek said of the litter cleanup project. Marshall has a reputation for being a clean community, she said, but with everything from old shopping bags to flattened cardboard boxes lying around the open lot, “It just doesn’t look good.”

It isn’t good for the environment either, added GreenStep coordinator Tom Hoff.

“A lot of (the trash) is small and breaking down, but it’s still plastic,” Hoff said.

The litter cleanup project was organized by Kawalek, who is serving in the Marshall community, and the Marshall GreenStep Committee and the SMSU Center for Civic Engagement. The event was one of the community activities leading up to SMSU President Connie Gores’ inauguration ceremony this week.

Gores and some of her family members were among the volunteers picking up litter on Thursday. After an inauguration rehearsal earlier in the day, the university president had changed into sneakers and gardening gloves to join in the cleanup.

“It’s a hands-on way to help,” Gores said of the cleanup. Gores also stopped to thank SMSU student volunteers for their efforts to help the community.

Some students said they were encouraged to join the cleanup by one of their professors, while others were there because of a suggestion from their residence assistant.

SMSU student Austin Nickleson said he didn’t need too much persuading to join in.

“I’m usually pretty adamant about recycling” at his residence hall, Nickleson said. “I don’t mind coming out here and getting some sun and helping the environment at the same time.”

Besides helping to get rid of a community eyesore, Kawalek said volunteers would also be surveying the amount and type of garbage collected from the lot. Cleanup volunteers were even starting the process by pre-sorting the trash. Knowing what kinds of litter ended up in the lot could help lead to future education or outreach, she said.

“It’ll give us some very good data on how to keep this from happening in the future,” Kawalek said.

The results of the trash survey will be posted on the Marshall GreenStep Facebook page, Kawalek said.

The trash survey will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Lyon County Fairgrounds. Kawalek said new volunteers are welcome to help, but she asked that they RSVP first. Kawalek can be reached at 537-6760, or by e-mail at melinda.kawalek@marshallmn.com.