TACOMA—Over the past month, volunteers from the International WeLoveU Foundation have been hosting clean-up campaigns across the United States to eliminate waste caused by COVID-19. In the heat of the pandemic, environmental conscientiousness took a back seat to controlling transmission of the virus, and now, consequences are bubbling up in our nation’s ecosystems.
A little over 16 months ago, seeing a disposable facemask lying on the sidewalk was practically unheard of. However, today, it’s quite uncommon to go for a walk and not see at least one facemask on the sidewalk, in the gutters, under the bushes, or everywhere else. Like this, the necessity of single use and individually packaged materials has dramatically increased the production of waste and subsequently, pollution in America. Meanwhile, critical waste removal and recycling centers have limited their operating hours, further inhibiting proper disposal and environmentally conscious behaviors.
With vaccination rates on the rise, the International WeLoveU Foundation called their volunteers back to action this summer, to combat the repercussions of COVID-19 on the environment. In Tacoma, the organization partnered with Tacoma City Council to arrange a street clean-up along E. McKinley Ave on Sunday, July 18th. At 1 P.M., about 130 volunteers filed into McKinley Park for the event. Of these volunteers, many traveled from Portland, Seattle, and as far as Yakima, to participate in the clean-up. Armed with protective gloves and garbage bags provided by the City of Tacoma, the WeLoveU Foundation volunteers spent two hours picking clean the 1.2 mile stretch between McKinley Park and Verlo Playfield. Along the way, many shared words of encouragement with residents and took time to raise awareness about the impact of pollution on waterways and natural habitats.
Tacoma City Council Member, Catherine Ushka and Pierce County Council Representative, Marty Campbell were also in attendance at the clean-up. According to Council Member Ushka, the east side of Tacoma relies on volunteerism to manage litter and pollution, and with all their usual volunteer events on hold for the past year and a half, it has been a struggle to keep the area clean during the COVID-19 crisis.
“The pandemic has been hard on all of us,” she said, “and clean-up is part of it, so it means the world to us to have your help. …When people see trash and refuge and illegal tagging, they feel less safe and frequently are less safe. So [clean-up] sends a feeling like, ‘You deserve to be in a beautiful place no matter who you are.’ I always say that everybody has a right to feel honored and respected wherever they are, and you bring honor on us by helping us today.”
“It’s incredibly heartwarming,” added Marty Campbell, representative of Peirce County Council District #5. “… To come out here to the east side, where we experienced a lot of blight during the pandemic, to come out and have 130 people show up and say, ‘We believe in your community, and we want to help make it cleaner,’ is incredibly heartwarming.” Representative Campbell also thanked the volunteers for leading the way in post-pandemic relief. “I want to thank the WeLoveU Foundation for putting this together and for staying connected during the pandemic, so we have an opportunity to be better together coming out of it.”
Local members of the WeLoveU Foundation invited their neighbors to join in the clean-up and were touched to see people drive in from all over the state of Washington and even Oregon to help.
“It’s so exciting to be out and be active, while making a contribution to the neighborhood and representing the WeLoveU Foundation as well,” said Tacoma resident and foundation member, Ashley Morgan.
“It was very uplifting: first, to be with a group of people who actually care about the community, and all have the same common goal, and second, to be able to sit in fellowship and enjoy one another’s company at the end. The atmosphere is good and clean, and it’s a safe environment for everybody. … it really made me feel like things are going back to normal,” said Ira Daniels, a former Marine and invitee of Mrs. Morgan’s family.
This event is the latest of several thousand clean-ups hosted by the International WeLoveU Foundation since its establishment by Chairwoman Zahng Gil-Jah in 2001. US branches of the foundation held similar events in Philadelphia, Alburquerque, Dallas, El Paso, and Chicago this past Sunday as well. From June 25th – July 25th, the organization has scheduled about six clean-ups every weekend in various cities across the nation. The goal of these events is to restore public places and ecosystems neglected during the pandemic, meanwhile contributing to the global organization’s long-standing commitment to environmental protection through their “Clean WORLD Movement”.
In addition to regular environmental clean-up campaigns, the International WeLoveU Foundation hosts various community service projects worldwide in support of education, emergency relief, “No Poverty & Zero Hunger”, public health, and more. Their diverse volunteer activities contribute to global achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
Community members who also want to participate in the post-pandemic clean-up can contact their local representative to schedule an event or simply start by picking up around their own neighborhood. Residents are, of course, reminded to always use personal protective equipment when handling debris and litter.
About The International WeLoveU Foundation: Founder and Chairwoman Zahng Gil-Jah established the International WeLoveU Foundation in South Korea in 2001 as a vehicle to deliver love and happiness to neighbors in need. The Chairwoman took a grassroots approach by personally interacting with and caring for the needs of the global village. Through the areas of poverty, hunger, health, education, environmental protection, clean water, sanitation, emergency relief, community well-being, and global partnership, the Chairwoman’s example of giving love has spread from the east to the west and planted itself in more than 50 countries to inspire a healthy and hopeful future.