SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. – Dozens of volunteers made short work of limbs, branches and leaves that littered the area around the Duck Pond on Sunday afternoon, piling them at the curb for pickup by the Department of Public Works.
Gray skies gave way to sunshine as the crew – bundled against the 40-degree weather and sporting a variety of headgear from caps to hats with flaps to furry – raked, dragged plastic garbage cans full of leaves and trundled wheelbarrows heaped with branches.
The Community Cleanup and Food Drive got under way at Village Hall at 1 p.m., where volunteers munched pizza donated by Bunny’s Sports Bar and Restaurant and awaited their marching orders from DPW Director Tom Michetti.
Among those gathered were 10 Scouts from Junior Girl Scout Troop 20718 and Brownie Troop 20345, wearing sashes with badges over their coats. Troop leader Sherina Larrier of Maplewood said the cleanup day was a good way for the girls to earn community service hours “in their own community.”
Some made it a family outing. "We are part of the community and want to help,” said Amanda Gerstmann of South Orange as she headed for the table to get pizza for her children. “We love the parks and playgrounds, and we wanted to help pitch in.”
Sheena Collum, chairwoman of the Citizens Public Safety Committee, said an assessment of parks and playgrounds last week showed the Duck Pond was most in need of attention. The crowd dispersed, with some electing to walk to the park, rakes balanced on their shoulders.
While the ducks huddled together in the center of Duck Pond, volunteers spread out. Kim Collins of South Orange came prepared with a large green bag for toting branches, which her father, Denny – visiting from Tennessee – obligingly filled up.
She said she came “with a gaggle of teens” who needed to do something to help “rather than lazing around texting.”
Brothers Jack and Cole Hockman, along with Leo Catanzaro, said they wanted the community service hours for their future college applications. The three teens got busy with rakes – after making sure Collum had their contact information for documentation of their contribution. Those who signed the attendance sheet also are eligible for free tickets donated by the South Orange Performing Arts Center.
As the afternoon work session was winding down, a group of workers took a break to pose for Collum. “Smile!” she called out. And they did.
NOTE: The reporter both observed and participated in the cleanup day. She is part of a hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.