If the streets of the Sunset neighbourhood look a little cleaner these days, it just might be thanks to a dedicated group of kids and their intrepid leader who have taken it upon themselves to pick up the trash in their community.
Sherry Loof leads the Dragon Cleanup Team, which is made of children between the ages of three and thirteen, and a few adults.
Loof, a retired bank clerk, has lived in Sunset for 16 years. She devotes her time to various volunteer causes including teaching English as a second language and organizing and documenting the work of the Dragon Team.
The group numbers between five and 12 members, depending on member availability, and focuses on residential side roads between Fraser and Knight Streets.
Loof said the issue of the garbage lining the sidewalks and roads originally came up at a neighbourhood party and while she doesn’t remember whose idea it first was, residents decided they would band together to do something about it.
“Litter is unattractive, encourages further littering, drives away customers, and reduces pride in community. I believe it’s been an issue for a long time, throughout the city,” Loof said.
While everyone in the neighbourhood was encouraged to join, the neighbourhood children stepped up the most to pitch in.
The team goes out once a week during the summer holidays, once during each of the Christmas and spring holidays and on teacher professional development days.
Sapphire, articulate beyond her 11 years, got involved two years ago.
“I just thought why not help out, make some new friends and just take this opportunity to give back,” she said.
The most common items of trash she picks up are cups, paper and cigarette butts, she said.
Loof said they recently started separating cigarette butts so they can be forwarded to TerraCycle for recycling..
So far this year they have picked up 160 lbs. (73 kgs) of litter and 9.25 oz. (262g) of cigarette butts, she said.
Raj, 10, said he knows why people drop garbage on the street. “Because I think they can’t find the garbage [cans] so they are just littering,” he said, adding he wishes there were more cans in his neighbourhood.
Raj’s brother Suren, 11, said there is another reason for all the litter, “People are lazy,” he said. Suren said the comments from adults and teenagers who see him out cleaning up have been encouraging. Most say, “Good job,” he said.
All three kids said bags of dog poop are the worst thing they have to pick up.
After the hour-long clean up sessions the group goes back to Loof’s house for ice cream, cookies and a drink.
Loof said a nearby city nursery provides buckets, the City of Vancouver’s Keep Vancouver Spectacular program provides pickers, tongs, vests, gloves and garbage bags.
Funds from the Vancouver Foundation, through the Neighbourhood Small Grants Program, pay for treats after each work party, and for pictures at the end of the year.
The next Dragon Team clean up is on Oct. 25. To get involved, or start a group, go to vancouver.ca and search “Keep Vancouver Spectacular”.