Two men from Nanaimo have banded together to pull garbage out of illegal dump sites and from abandoned homeless camps.
Jeff Callaghan and Les Girard, who call themselves the Van Isle Clean Team, say they are motivated by a love of nature and a desire to make the woods safer by picking up discarded needles.
Callaghan points to other parts of the world that have to deal with massive piles of garbage, saying: “The last thing I want is Canada looking like that.”
The two do the work for nothing, with the help of donations such as gloves and garbage bags from other Nanaimo residents and local businesses. They have filled countless garbage bags with tonnes of refuse.
Callaghan, 49, and a father of 10, started cleaning out garbage in the woods a couple of years ago after coming across large piles of discarded items while on family walks. He is looking for work after being laid off from a maintenance job when a local motel closed last year.
He toiled on his own until coming across Girard, 33, on Facebook. They live in the same neighbourhood and discovered they had each tackled a nearby area where people dumped refuse.
For about three weeks, they have partnered in their efforts, collecting huge piles of full garbage bags, which have been taken away for disposal.
Now they are in the midst of setting up as a non-profit society and working out issues relating to liability in case they expand their numbers.
Girard is on a disability allowance due to a medical issue, which can leave him too exhausted to move or stand some days. What drives him is “my love for nature and safety for my family,” said Girard, who has two children and has worked in health care and home support.
One of his concerns is discarded needles, some partially filled, left on the ground.
On their cleanup forays, they take sharps containers, which are then disposed of at proper facilities, Girard said. They pick up all sorts of other items — from rotted clothing to shopping carts, a futon, a lawnmower and more.
If the Clean Team comes across a homeless camp that’s being used, the occupants are treated with courtesy and offered garbage bags to help maintain the area, said Girard, who wants to see more services to help address homelessness in the community.
In a recent eight-day cleanup project close to Haliburton Street, near tracks managed by Southern Railway of Vancouver Island, they picked up 475 bags of refuse, carrying them on trucks that run along the railway tracks, Girard said. A friend of Callaghan’s helped as well. The garbage was moved onto City of Nanaimo property, where a municipal bin had been dropped off.
Other areas blitzed by the team include Barsby Park and a wooded area near Bowen Road.
The team met with municipal staff last week, said David Thompson, Nanaimo’s manager of sanitation, recycling and public works administration.
While Nanaimo works with community groups every spring and fall on roadside cleanup blitzes, the Clean Team is different because cleanups take place in the woods, he said.
Thompson asks people who plan to embark on cleanups to let them know ahead of time — especially if the want to clear out garbage on private property.
“We are more than happy to assist when we know about activities that citizens are undertaking.”