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From Hero to Zero, the Frustrations of a Paterson Litter Marshal

Herman Gomez on 23rd Avenue where he gathered debis for the city to pick up.

PATERSON, NJ – Herman Gomez takes his volunteer position as a city Litter Marshal seriously.

How much so? Well, did you see the large mounds of trash that accumulated on 23rd Avenue near the Food Fair supermarket in recent weeks? They were Gomez’ work. He says he spent six hours cleaning up the area and putting the debris in piles. But Gomez admits he can’t take all the credit.

“What happened is people started adding to it because the city did not come to pick it up,’’ said Gomez, who lives on E. 21st Street in the 6th Ward.

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The piles lingered there for more than a month, Gomez said. City workers finally hauled them away a few days ago, he said. The city's slow response, he said, has left him somewhat disillusioned with the litter marshal program.

“I was a hero in the beginning,’’ he said. “Now I’m a zero.’’

But city officials say Gomez’ efforts are much appreciated. Recycling coordinator Diane Polifronio, who runs the Litter Marshal program, said she passed the clean-up information onto other divisions in the Public Works department to assist in picking up the debris. “Sometimes they are busy on other jobs or trucks are broken down,’’ Polifronio said when asked about the delay in removing Gomez’ piles.

The Litter Marshal program started last September and so far more than 150 Patersonians have received official Litter Marshal pins, said Polifronio. Most of them are members of groups like the Girl Scouts, St. Paul’s, Eastside High’s ROTC, the Paterson PAL, the Sheriff’s SLAP program, Youth Services, and Mira and Anthony Wilson and the AFOOFA (All For One, One For All) Club, she said.

Part of the focus of the program is to assist city inspectors catch people illegally dumping garbage, according to Paterson Litter Marshal pamphlet. So far, none of the marshals has caught any illegal dumpers red-handed, Polifronio said.

In about 20 instances, Litter Marshals have enrolled in the city’s “Adopt-a-Spot program for cleaning up various areas of Paterson. Gomez adopted several blocks in the 6th Ward, including the 23rd Avenue area near the supermarket.

Gomez, who is from Texas, moved to Paterson about five years ago. “I’ve really grown to love the city,’’ he said. “I don’t mind the city being old, but I do mind it being dirty.’’

So when he heard about the Litter Marshal program, he jumped right in.

“I really want to be part of cleaning up Paterson,’’ he said. “I’m doing my part.''


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