Earth Day takes place on April 22 but a group of local eco-conscious citizens got to work early last week by cleaning parts of Hollister that have been ignored for quite some time.
Latiana Lillywhite of Hollister was one of 250 volunteers that picked up trash throughout the city for the annual Downtown Spring Clean-Up Day on April 17. She brought along her partner, Joey Gracia, and their son, Urijah Gracia, to collect garbage at an empty dirt lot on San Juan Road near the Hollister Super grocery store.
“I’m just the kind of person who cares about the environment. I’m always trying to reduce, reuse, recycle and keep things clean,” Lillywhite said. “I’m like a ‘I love Mother Earth’ type of person.”
Ryan Okrant of The Hollister Litter Project spent his morning weighing trash bags at the Veterans Memorial Building on San Benito Street to see how much litter was collected by volunteers.
The 40-year-old Boulder Creek native moved to Hollister in February but it took him just three days to realize the large amount of litter around his neighborhood.
He posted a note on Facebook alerting people that he wanted to start picking up the trash that was scattered around town, asking if people had time and the tools to help him. Within 24 hours he had 200 comments and more than 300 likes.
“People were just gravitating toward cleaning up the town,” he said.
Lillywhite, who resides on the westside of town, always wanted to start some kind of clean-up project but she never had the time. She did her small part by picking up trash alongside Bridgevale Road because she was tired of seeing it turn into a small dump.
Once she heard about Okrant’s project she was immediately onboard.
“It’s not surprising that [Okrant] would start something like this,” she said. “It’s great that he came to Hollister and said he wanted to do something about it.”
Okrant connected with Celina Stotler at the San Benito County Integrated Waste Management division, which provided most of the tools and bags to help collect the trash and the rest was history.
The first clean-up event took place March 20 around Sunnyslope Road where they picked up between 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of trash. The next goal for Okrant is to create a slogan that will encourage community members to not just pick up the litter but prevent it from happening at all.
“The more that we can get the neighbors involved….then maybe two or three years from now, we don’t have to be so crazy about picking up litter because it just stays clean,” he said.
Okrant, who also runs the non-profit Animal Survival & Safety Emergency Response Team program, didn’t expect such a big turnout after getting just 40 people in the first event.
Nancy Frusetta, executive director at the Community FoodBank, was busy since 8am picking up plastic straws, plastic bottles and masks alongside San Felipe Road up to Fallon Road near the airport.
“It really makes you never want to drink from a plastic bottle again,” she said. “It’s so good to have people out here cleaning because it changes the way that you think about and use plastic. It’s incredible.”
Frusetta said it was time for the Community FoodBank to do its part of cleaning up, especially because most of the items they hand out come in plastic packaging or it’s boxed. Although most of it is recyclable, she’s not sure if it is properly disposed of.
“For us to go full circle, we’re going to give food but we’re also going to make sure that we’re helping out by cleaning up anything that people might not take care of themselves,” she said.
Frusetta hopes that events such as the clean-up will start a trend that will make people aware of what’s happening on their own street. Okrant said he’s doing his best to connect with the four districts within Hollister and surrounding areas in San Benito County to create smaller chapters of the litter project.
Lillywhite also believes that Saturday morning’s event can help the city tremendously and that it will influence others to start being more eco-conscious like herself.
“It’s definitely already growing and this is only the second official clean-up day. It’s making an impact,” she said.