UNION, NJ — In celebration of Earth Day on April 22, hundreds of Union residents came out for the Union Residents Forum Earth Day Cleanup, to clean up their town, hitting the parks, side streets, and green spaces with rakes and garbage bags in hand. The idea was born when Union resident, Ed Rucki, was attending a meeting of a charity group and a guest speaker mentioned a cleanup event that was coinciding with Earth Day.
“I thought this was a great community event and would bring it back home,” Rucki told the Union Leader in an April 10 email. “Since it is also Community Service Day, this might be a nice idea for team building and getting neighbors together to enhance where we all live. At the time, I was unaware of any event planned by the township.”
Rucki said he then contacted Union resident and community activist, Jason Krychiw, about the idea.
“Jason is a great facilitator and organizer who is community minded and has contact with neighborhood groups,” Rucki said. “I give him the credit for getting this rolling.”
Krychiw told the Union Leader that many people have approached him about their concerns regarding litter throughout town.
“This wasn’t just limited to parks, but also on the sides of streets and exits off of the various highways that run through Union,” Krychiw said in April 11 email. “Since Earth Day is on a Saturday this year and we have had so much success with resident-driven projects recently, I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to address this issue and help clean up the town.”
According to Krychiw, who spoke with the Union Leader before the event, the clean-up was to target the entire town.
“Parks, side streets, walkways, and other greenspaces are all being targeted,” Krychiw said. “We are working with a lot of civic associations, youth groups, individuals, and even fraternities from Kean University who all want to help out. I tried to coordinate it so groups of a couple dozen would take certain parts of town near where they live. That way, each section is responsible for what they identify as the biggest area of need and can focus on that to most efficiently tend to all parts of town.
Approximately 400 people signed up for the event, according to Krychiw.
Some groups that signed up were: Kean University’s Nu Sigma Phi Fraternity, Omega Sigma Psi Sorority, the Kennedy Reservation Civic Association, the Fairway Drive Civic Association, Union Food Not Bombs and Union High School.
Supplies for the event, including garbage bags, gloves, rakes, and other basics, were donated by volunteers. In addition, a local printing shop donated T-shirts for volunteers.
Karla Schwedt, who lives near the Kennedy Reservation in the Green Lane section of Union and who is assisting in coordinating the cleanup for that area, told the Union Leader prior to the event that she has been aware of the litter problem in the area for several years.
“I have lived near Kennedy Reservation for 19 years,” Schwedt said in an April 19 email. “I purchased my house because of the wooded land surrounding in such an urban area. For the past several years I have been picking up trash that people just toss out in the park, so when I heard about this resident-organized cleanup, I thought what a great idea. I am hoping to have about 25 people, some of whom are children, to clean up the reservation this Saturday. One parent I spoke with thought it would be a nice learning experience for his children.”
Krychiw said that he was not surprised that so many residents wanted to help out with the cleanup.
“I am very humbled and overwhelmed by such a large response, but with all the great community-minded people in Union, I can’t say that I am surprised,” Krychiw said.
Rucki noted that he has seen trash strewn throughout town and decided to do something about it.
“Personally, I’ve see litter strewn areas around town,” Rucki said. “I also have read a number of Facebook posts by residents mentioning trash and unkempt green areas around town. An initiative like this allows our residents to take a hands-on approach to solving these issues, as well as bringing light to some areas that may be inadvertently neglected by those responsible for maintaining them. There are some areas it seems that no one knows who should be maintaining. This will be a combination of Union helping Union, get out and meet your neighbors, even possibly those from across town. This will give an opportunity for those that aren’t sure exactly how to help.”
Krychiw said that the initiative is part of the bigger picture in addressing the environment.
“The whole point of Earth Day is to take note of the natural environment and look for ways to improve it for the well-being of everyone,” Krychiw said. “Keeping green spaces clean and fixing up ones that might not be really helps people appreciate how beneficial projects like this are — both aesthetically and economically.”
Krychiw noted the greater impact on the environment if other towns were to follow Union’s lead.
“If every town in every county did this, imagine the result,” Krychiw said. “It’s all about individuals and communities coming together to do their part. These small local projects add up over time and I’d like to see this one start a more
widespread trend. Sometimes people get discouraged when they try to get involved civically because they think it is difficult to get started on their own, and it usually takes a lot of time to see any sort of payoff. This Earth Day cleanup is a prime example that this isn’t always the case.
“My hope is that this tangible change on such a large scale can serve as an example for similar projects in the future. People are seeing how these small steps can add up to bigger and better ones and it is very exciting to be a part of.”