For years, Monica Garcia has roughed it along the Pajaro River watershed in her motorized wheelchair, where she’s helped volunteers clean up the ever-constant garbage left behind by those with no concern for the environment.
Garcia, who is battling lupus, must use the wheelchair to get around, as the autoimmune disease limits her mobility. But that wheelchair, with its small tires and underpowered motor, is not conducive to the steep, muddy and weed-choked terrain along the creeks. As such, Garcia noted her frustration as she’s had to sometimes stay on the sidelines while other volunteers work in the harder-to-reach spots.
Now, Garcia has a new set of wheels that, in a refreshing change of pace, allows her to get to places where others cannot.
Garcia unveiled her new Yamaha Wolverine X2 R-Spec ATV on Oct. 23 at Christmas Hill Park, during a cleanup organized by South Valley Community Church and Coastal Habitat Education and Environmental Restoration (CHEER).
“It felt pretty amazing to be out there and help get trash and take it to the dump,” she said. “It felt nice to be able to be a part of it and not feel restricted.”
The vehicle was purchased thanks to donations from Jim and Louise Wholey as well as Graniterock, all of whom are longtime sponsors of CHEER.
Herman Garcia, founder of CHEER and Monica’s father, said the Wholeys were inspired to donate after reading a Jan. 1 article in the Gilroy Dispatch, which described Monica’s work with the organization that cleans up more than 1,300 square miles of watershed from Morgan Hill down into San Benito County and Watsonville.
Monica Garcia is described as CHEER’s “soul and inspiration” who encourages other volunteers to do more.
As such, the vehicle is tricked out with the words “Soul and Inspiration,” along with the names of the sponsors who donated. Downtown Gilroy-based TFB Designs created the graphics on the vehicle.
Garcia said the vehicle helped the cleanup run more efficiently as she, her brother Aaron and 5-year-old niece Giovanna Martinez would drive back-and-forth, picking up bags of garbage set aside by the volunteers and transporting them to a trailer, which was then taken to the San Martin Transfer Station.
Herman Garcia estimated the crews gathered 5,000 pounds of junk during the cleanup, which consisted of bicycles, mattresses and other bulky items.
“It’s progressively getting worse every day,” he said. “We can’t keep up with all the garbage out there.”
A majority of the trash is not from the homeless, but from construction contractors as well as historical farming dump sites, according to Monica.
She stressed the importance of instilling environmental stewardship in the younger generation, which is why she took her niece along on the cleanup.
“I wanted her to see what was happening,” Garcia said. “You tell kids to throw trash away, but they don’t really get it. When she saw it, she said, ‘Auntie, why would they do this to the environment? Don’t we need the environment to survive?’”
The cleanup was a success, with Garcia saying her niece now hounds her family and friends to throw their trash in the proper bins.
After an 18-month pandemic hiatus, CHEER has returned to hosting community cleanups. For information on upcoming events, visit cheercentral.org.