Making a difference is as easy as picking up trash

Alice Garlock started picking up trash around Milford as a way to get in shape. Then she got hooked.

For more than a year she’s been picking a spot in town in need of some de-littering and heading out solo to clean it up. Now, once a month she does a community cleanup, which she posts on her Facebook page, Alice’s Reloved Workshop, and invites others to join her.

Recently Garlock was cleaning with some family friends in a wooded area behind Pumpkin Delight School.

“The first time, I pulled a toilet from here, so I didn’t come back myself this time,” said Garlock, who is 19 and a student at Gateway Community College.

The young woman approaches the task with an easygoing, lighthearted demeanor.

The first time out she tackled Caswell Cove, picking up litter there, because on a walk there one day with her parents she noticed there was trash scattered about.

She decided it made sense to return with trash bags and clean it up.

“I figured there’s no reason why I can’t,” Garlock said.

She puts a positive spin on the work, trying to think of it as a treasure hunt. She never knows what she will find. One time she found an old bicycle and took it home for her brother, who fixed it up and now rides it.

Most often, the trash, after it’s bagged, is picked up by the city and hauled away. But where possible, she tries to find a use for the trash. Bottles and cans, for example, can be redeemed, and she donates the funds to the city’s animal shelter. She takes unbroken plastic gardening pots to a local farm, where they are used for new plants.

“We try to divert waste,” she said. “Of course, we can’t divert everything.”

Garlock said she’s had some health issues, even at a young age, and when she started to feel better, she decided she wanted to refocus her energy, to do good.

The area behind Pumpkin Delight School, and others, like land near the Margaret Egan Center, needed attention, and she gave it.

“When I come to places like this, I think it’s taken years to build up the garbage, and I can get it clean in a couple of days — a couple of long days. And it will be like it never happened.”

There are more people than you would think out and about cleaning up trash from city spots. Phyllis Swebilius, for example, is a local news reporter Garlock has run into on occasion.

“I like meeting other people who do this independently,” she said.

Sometimes, cleaning the environment can be a sort of game, she said, explaining that some people are really good at hiding trash, like in the hollows of trees, and some trash hides in the surrounding plants and leaves, camouflaged.

“I tell myself, the trash is trying to hide from me, but I get it in the end,” she said with a laugh.

Garlock has connected with Steve Johnson, Milford’s open space manager, who has given her some tips and tools for helping the environment, and Ann Berman of Milford’s Environmental Concerns Coalition, who thinks Garlock is a treasure.

“She loves what she is doing and attacks neighborhoods were she finds unwanted trash,” Berman said.

Garlock also makes free toys and beds for eight animal shelters, and she makes free supplies, mostly nesting pouches and fleece igloos, for five state licensed wildlife rehabilitators. She uses materials that people give her that would usually be trash, like old blankets and clothes.

Cleanup this weekend

Cindy Wolfe Boynton worked with Garlock to organize the next community cleanup. It will take place Saturday, May 12, at the Calf Pen Meadow Creek nature preserve, city open space located on Pond Point Avenue between Baxter and Bird lanes.

People who want to come on Saturday can park on Pond Point Avenue. The cleanup is from noon to 2 p.m.

Boynton said she met Garlock through other community projects, and was impressed with how much she cares about the environment, animals and other people.

“I was impressed with her from the first time I met her,” Boynton said. “I've never met someone who cares so very much about our environment, animals, and other people.”

For information on Garlock’s future community cleanups, including Saturday’s, go to her Facebook page, Alice’s Reloved Workshop.