No cigarette butt or candy wrapper left behind by Trash Team

Rockford church youth make clean sweep during SOS Celebration


Standing in front of their headquarters tent, just outside the Lions’ beer tent, is one of Rockford United Methodist Church’s SOS Trash Team crews with just a few of the well over 200 bags of accumulated trash picked up during the three-day festival. Pictured are (l–r) crew leader Mike Walden, team leader Ruth Reickard, along with Rockford High School students Mitch and Matt Dickenson. (Not pictured: RHS graduate Jake Schemmel.) Photo by CLIFF HILL

Perhaps the most popular of all of the events hosted by the City of Rockford, the Start of Summer (SOS) Celebration kicked off the summer vacation season this past weekend with a jam-packed three days of festivities. There was something for everyone. Thousands of people flocked downtown to enjoy the traditional Saturday morning SOS parade, food booths galore, a great touring carnival, fireworks, musical entertainment, and a humongous beer tent sponsored by the Rockford Lions Club. Needless to say, all this daily fun and frolic left in its wake a sea of trash on the streets and in the parks of the downtown area and along the entirety of the parade route. Did you ever wonder who cleans up the litter created each year during Rockford’s annual SOS Celebration?

Enter the high school and college age youth of Rockford United Methodist Church (RUMC). SOS, now in its 43rd year, has for the past 10 years used the outreach services of the youth that comprise the RUMC Trash Team. Polly VonEschen, organizer of SOS for the past 24 years, said, “The RUMC Trash Team is the very best ever at what they do.”

Working quietly behind the scenes, almost unnoticed, the RUMC Trash Team manages to repeatedly empty trash barrels along with picking up every discarded French fry, cigarette butt, candy wrapper, beverage container—you name it, they pick it up! By last Sunday evening, at the festivities’ close, the RUMC Trash Team had used well in excess of 200 60-gallon trash bags to contain discarded refuse.

Immediately after Saturday morning’s SOS parade, the RUMC Trash Team “swept” the entire parade route. From start to finish they picked up every single piece of debris that inevitably follows in the wake of a parade, especially one that freely dispenses candy and treats to eager children in the crowd of spectators.

Ruth Reickard (a.k.a. “The Trash Lady”) oversaw 30 high school and college age youth along with 14 adult crew leaders that comprised nine clean-up crews. Over the three days of the SOS Celebration, each crew worked a three-hour shift, some starting as early as 6:30 a.m. and others ending as late as 10 p.m. All told, the RUMC Trash Team provided a whopping 138+ man-hours of volunteer

labor, not counting additional time spent assisting with Thursday night’s beer tent set-up.

Reickard tells us that this is not exactly glamorous work. All the more amazing because the remarkable youth of the RUMC Trash Team receive no wages for their labors. Instead the SOS Committee—consisting of Polly VonEschen, Linda Southwick and Jeannie Gregory—made, as usual, an undisclosed contribution to RUMC to be used to partially offset the costs associated with the church’s annual Appalachia Service Project (ASP) mission trip.

Reickard, an amazing woman, really warms up on the subject of ASP. “This is RUMC’s 22nd year of participation in the Appalachia Service Project,” said Reickard. “The vision of ASP, a Christian ministry, is to eradicate substandard and oftentimes third world housing in Central Appalachia.”

For many years Reickard has also headed up RUMC’s ASP mission trip. She said the same youth that participated on the SOS Trash Team will freely give a week of their summer vacation to travel to Chavies, Ky. to make homes safer, warmer and drier.

“Volunteering their time picking up trash this past weekend was just a tune-up for what is soon to follow in Appalachia. Oftentimes combined family incomes are well below the poverty level. Many of the homes of needy families in the region do not even have indoor plumbing,” said Reickard. “No one walks away from the ASP experience unchanged.”

The RUMC ASP team is just one of many teams from across the country that will rotate into the region on a weekly basis throughout the summer months to provide greatly needed home repair assistance. Since 1969, more than 260,000 volunteers from across the country have repaired 14,000 homes and, in the process, Appalachian families, volunteers and staff have been immeasurably blessed.

Thanks, RUMC Trash Team/ASP team for making the world a better place both in Rockford and, more importantly, right here in the USA in Central Appalachia.


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