A pandemic is killing thousands of people and infecting millions more. The last thing anyone might want to do is pick up other people’s trash — except for Gainesville residents Laura Zoellner and Leah Moss.
“When you’re in it, and it’s right in your face, you go: ‘You should probably pick that up,’” Moss said.
Since going into self-quarantine three weeks ago, the longtime friends have been cleaning Gainesville using equipment from Current Problems, a nonprofit organization focused on cleaning up the waterways in Florida that’s been active for over 25 years.
Recently, it started delivering supplies to Gainesville residents. The pair made a $10 donation to Current Problems for a clean-up kit that included buckets, gloves, trash bags and grabbers, but people can make any amount of donation to receive the kit, they said.
Neither women have careers involved with the environment. Moss is an Florida State University nursing student and Zoellner works in marketing and communications for The Vegan Glow, a Korean brand.The two women agreed, however, that because of their upbringing in Gainesville, they grew an appreciation for nature. So when they found themselves visiting their hometown with a lot of time on their hands, they looked for ways to clean up their environment.
Moss and Zoellner have picked up 40 pounds of litter so far, but that doesn’t include a small black kitten they rescued at one of their sites.
“We went out for about five minutes and we found a kitten in a cart, and I’m just gonna say another perk of going out there is you might find a kitten,” Zoellner said.
The kitten isn’t the only award the women have received. The pair have enjoyed the community’s reception of their clean-up efforts.
“Everybody’s so positive about it,” Zoellner said. “ It's nice to see people’s reactions to it for sure.”
Moss and Zoellner do their work mostly in the evening to avoid the daytime heat. The two usually spend two to three hours working, or pick up trash until their garbage bags are full.
Many areas of Gainesville are filled with trash that needs to be picked up, they said, noting SW 28th Terrace and SW 35th Place as examples of problem areas.
Keep Alachua County Beautiful, another organization that focuses on cleaning the local environment, has been working steadily through the pandemic and providing supplies at no cost for people like Moss and Zoellner, according to Gina Hawkins, the organization’s executive director.
“People have plenty of room to stay apart from each other,” Hawkins said. “Whether people adopt a road or just want to clean their own neighborhood we can provide them safety vests, gloves, trash bags, grabber sticks and first aid kits — they just have to bring their own masks.”
Since its start in 1993, Current Problems has picked up over 888,000 pounds of trash. From 2018-2019, KACB collected 630,809 pounds of litter and debris and was able to recycle 431,551 pounds of that.
Moss and Zoeller hope to inspire more people to see Gainesville as more than a short-term commitment — it’s a place to live.
“I feel like Gainesville is definitely my home,” Zoellner said. “It's like a black hole — it brings you back in.”
Contact Zora Viel at [email protected].