STEPHEN HEMELT — 1st time participant and organizer shares reactions from Community Trash-Off

Published 12:22 am Saturday, March 4, 2023

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Melinda Jackson enjoyed a unique role as one of the chief organizers for last week’s 28th annual Community Trash-Off.

Although this effort is nearly three decades old in Orange County, 2023 marked the first time Jackson was part of the massive volunteer effort.

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Jackson is beginning her 10 month in a year-long internship program for Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center.

So what were the impressions for the first-time event participant, who happened to also be a leader?

“It was a lot of effort to coordinate with all of the community members, but it was so worth it because we had about 250 people show up overall,” she told Orange Newsmedia. “We had about 150 that pre-registered, which was great. They already had teams set up. They have been a part of this event for years and knew exactly what they were getting into.

“There were a lot of people who came on the morning of the event. Some were groups who just heard about it and wanted to participate. Some were like, ‘we know what we are doing. We know how this runs. These are our waiver forms. Let’s sign up now.’ They were easy breezy.”

Most participants for Feb. 25’s cleanup effort did a great job, especially knowing what to expect. And Jackson was there to help the few who didn’t know where to go.

“All of the community members are the true heroes of this entire event,” Jackson said. “Sure, INVISTA sponsored it and Shangri La hosted it, but the community members were the ones who put in all the effort and all of the work. We were just able to provide them a space to do it. I thought that was absolutely wonderful.”

Jackson noted that you don’t see a lot volunteer-led clean-up crew work in Southeast Texas, making events like the one last week extra special.

“To see an effort like this down here was really homey for me,” she said. “It made me feel really comfortable being here. This is a great place, and I am happy my family is here now.”

She began her internship work in June and started learning the ropes of community organizing last year while helping put together the Autumn Fair in November. She started work on this cleanup event toward the end of December.

At the end of the day, there were three dumpsters completely full with trash picked from local roadways and green spaces.

“What works the best was giving the participants the option to choose where they want to go,” Jackson said. “They feel more inclined to want to keep it up, not just for today but throughout the year.”

When the day was over, Jackson found herself driving home thinking, “wow, we did it. It paid off.”

Until last week, she had never been a part of “such an amazing and large event” that reached so many people who she worked with personally.

“I talked to most of the people, if not all of them,” she said. “We did some good in the best way possible. There were no hiccups; nothing bad happened. This was such a good turnout.”

Jackson describes the move from the Pacific Northwest to Southeast Texas as a culture shock. Before, she didn’t have to drive a long way to go on a hike. She could just walk outside, hike down to a river and go swimming there.

“But it is nice to know that there are a lot of places that do take care and still want to conserve and protect natural spaces,” she said.

“I hope other organizations want to do some more things, not just in Orange but Beaumont and Port Arthur, so it is more of a social aspect and more on your brain than it is right now.”

Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center hosted this year’s Community Trash-Off in collaboration with the City of Orange.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher at Orange Newsmedia, which produces the Orange Leader and He can be reached at