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As trash piles up in Norfolk, one city agency tries to make up for volunteers lost during pandemic

The volunteer teams with Keep Norfolk Beautiful don’t just clean up streets and neighborhoods. They look after sacred areas like cemeteries whenever possible.

NORFOLK, Va. — Litter is getting out of hand in Norfolk because, well, there aren’t enough hands to grab it!

Organizers with Keep Norfolk Beautiful said they lost almost 2,000 people over the pandemic. 

Volunteers like Earl Fraley are trying to keep Norfolk Beautiful. 

“And it’s fun, believe it or not,” said Fraley. 

He picks up trash with his fraternity, the Lambda Omega Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc, but there aren’t many like them right now. 

“If we don’t do it, we are going to have a huge problem on our hands,” Fraley said.    

The city organization Keep Norfolk Beautiful lost a lot of people during the coronavirus pandemic and it’s showing.  

“People tend to just drive through and throw the trash out of the car, unfortunately,” said KNB Program Manager Sarah Sterzing.   

Sterzing calls the stretch of road by the fast-food spots on Monticello Avenue the “Wild West of trash." But she added that it’s all over the Mermaid City, lining the streets and clogging stormwater drains.  

“With the pandemic, it has gotten terrible,” Sterzing said. “People are using disposables and they are also just disposing of everything!” 

Sterzing said the program is down more than 1,700 volunteers and are collecting trash at a slower rate:

 FY20- July 2019- June 2020
Volunteers: 3,329
Collected: 65,797 lbs of trash

FY21 – July 2020- to Present
Volunteers: 1,560
Collected: 24,292 lbs of trash 

Sterzing said they used to get a lot of help from the military and college groups, but pandemic restrictions have closed that door for now. 

The volunteer teams don’t just clean up streets and neighborhoods. They look after sacred areas like cemeteries whenever possible.

West Point Cemetery is right next door to Monticello Avenue. It’s the burial site of Black Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War. 

“We need to celebrate that by treating it right,” Sterzing said. 

The group supplies volunteers with the tools needed. 

“We do have good COVID protocols,” said KNB’s program coordinator Fleta Jackson. “It’s always masks, a lot of hand sanitizer, a lot of gloves.”

The group used to hold events with about 100 volunteers. Now they do smaller cleanups with just 10. They worry about what will happen if they can’t recruit more help.  

“Who wants to live in a city that is trashed?” Sterzing asked. “We have so many beautiful assets.”  

Fortunately, Fraley doesn’t plan to throw in the towel anytime soon. 

“It’s a lot of fun,” Fraley said. “We can still have social distancing and get done what we want to get done.” 

Keep Norfolk Beautiful needs long-term volunteers, but also some for this Saturday to help clean up along Norview Avenue. If you're interested in helping out, email knb@norfolk.gov, or call 757-441-1347 to register.

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