Volunteers build beds and pick up litter in Rotary Day of Service

With every click of a garbage picker and swing of a hammer, a determined but small army of Rotary volunteers plucked trash in Riverhead and built beds in Southold on Saturday, taking a literal approach to the International Rotary Clubs‘s encouragement of service that is ‘hands-on’.

The local Rotary clubs’ participation in the annual Day of Service were two of 60 events island-wide with thousands of volunteers giving back to their communities in 10 states and seven countries. There were dozens of projects completed that day to enhance neighborhoods, build community, and meet the needs of underserved populations, according to a press release from the Riverhead Rotary. A corps of volunteers collaborated on planting pollinator gardens, clearing walking and hiking trails, collecting food and other essentials for veterans, and preparing and serving meals to homeless people.

In Riverhead, volunteers plucked litter from along the Riverhead side of the Peconic River. About 30 volunteers, with their blue Rotarian jackets shielding them from the rain, grabbed loads of plastic bottles, cans, tissues, clothing, the occasional straw and other trash as they walked the length of the river from the parking lot behind Main Street west to Grangebel Park.

“Everyone here wants our community to look nice and this makes it better,” said George Dupree, incoming Riverhead Rotary president. 

It was a land-only cleanup this year, as the rain discouraged volunteers from getting into kayaks and canoes to remove litter from the water. Fortunately, they found the river fairly clean. 

“Boaters here are pretty good. It’s only when we get storm runoff that trash accumulates in the Peconic,” said volunteer Connie Gevinski. 

Joanne Rizzo of Riverhead proudly held her trash bag filled with litter she accumulated from weaving around the cars in the parking lot.

“Rotary was a big part of my school when I was teaching. I wanted to be part of organizations like this that are helping our community,” she said.

Sixteen-year-old Tiwa Ojutiku of Medford laughed about being the youngest volunteer. “I want to commit myself to the Rotary to work on myself and my leadership skills. We’re all here to make the environment better.”

While Ms. Rizzo and others concentrated on leaving the parking lot pristine, just west and across Peconic Avenue, another contingent of trash pickers set the goal to not leave a single piece of debris in Grangebel Park. Cigarette butts made up the bulk of the litter, followed by bottles, cans and clothing. 

Four young men from the Timothy Hill ranch participated as well, focusing their efforts on Grangebel Park. A smiling 24-year-old Cameron Mitchell said,“I feel like a good citizen today.”

Daniel Isaac, 22, said he really enjoyed clearing the park of litter. “It gave me peace of mind,” he said.

For 20-year-old Joseph Luna, the cleanup strengthened his connection with his fellow volunteers. “It helps all of us build on work ethic and leadership,” he said.

Andre Gordon-Grant, 25, said, “Volunteering really helps out the community.”

Members of the Southold Rotary sawed and sanded planks and boards to be assembled into beds for children in need. (Steve Wick photo)

While the Riverhead Rotary was sprucing up the environment, further east, the Southold Rotary group of volunteers were sanding boards and sawing planks of wood at the American Legion Hall in Southold.

About 18 club members under the leadership of president Emily Franchina, along with other volunteers, participated in the build. The club joined forces with volunteers from Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a group that uses kits to build beds for children in need. It was the group’s first “build” of 20 beds.

“Each year, Rotary International selects a day where its clubs and club members select a community project in which to participate in a ‘hands-on’ way,” longtime Rotarian Walter Krupski said.