PORT ANGELES — They don’t mind picking up other people’s trash.
Actually, they enjoy it.
Deana Volker and Patty Pastore lead a group of about half a dozen women who regularly clean up areas around Port Angeles, often abandoned homeless camps in the woods and along waterways strewn with trash.
Volker and Pastore, who are retired, typically do smaller cleanups about three times each week, and the group gets together at least once a month on weekends to do larger cleanups, often pulling hundreds of pounds of trash at a time. They also have an Adopt-a-Highway section.
“[Trash] is something I see that shouldn’t be there,” Volker said. “God did not intend it to be there; nature did not intend it to be there; it’s a blight.”
When they clean homeless camps, they make sure they are abandoned before going in, Volker said. That usually means waiting a week or two after they have identified a potential cleanup site.
Often it’s obvious if a camp is actively being used. People’s belongings are tucked away and folded.
It’s when there is no sign anyone has been there for days that they will do a full cleanup.
“We confirm that they are abandoned and we won’t take stuff on our first sighting,” Volker said. “We let it sit for a while just to confirm it’s not an active camp.”
They said they call police before entering if they have any concerns for their safety. They wear bright-orange vests, have whistles hanging around their necks and stick together.
Pastore said she takes pride in the work they do — because she takes pride in Port Angeles.
“I have pride in my city, and all of us do,” Pastore said. “We don’t want to live in a town where people say, ‘This is bad, this is dirty.’
“We’re helping our town, and we just love doing it.”
Pastore said she likes to collect what she calls “treasures.”
They are things — such as Scrabble pieces or children’s blocks — that have little monetary value, but they show a piece of humanity among the mess they are cleaning.
“It’s like finding a piece of a human that wanted that little thing,” she said. “They held on to it for a while. It’s a piece of somebody’s life.”
When they do find things of value, they turn them over to police.
Volker said occasionally, they find passports, wallets and licenses that need to be turned in.
Pastore and Volker said they have developed relationships with some people along the Port Angeles waterfront and will leave their stuff alone.
“We keep track of their stuff,” she said. “We told them as long as you keep your trash picked up, that’s fine.
“They have to have a place to sleep.”
What they find when they are cleaning abandoned camps can be disgusting. They find containers of drinks that have gone bad, needles and “bathrooms.”
But they take it in stride. During a cleanup on Tumwater Creek earlier this month, the women joked as they picked through trash and not once did they complain.
During that cleanup, they pulled out 440 pounds of trash and 18 used needles, which were all already in a container.
From April through September, they have found 174 needles, 213 bags of trash and spent 338 hours cleaning.
They said they often see people who will post on Facebook that they saw trash and that the city should do something about. But the city doesn’t have those kind of resources, Pastore said.
“That’s what probably bothers us most, is when people will say, ‘Oh, I I saw so much trash,’ ” she said. “Well, go pick it up. That’s what we do.”
Pastore and Volker got started when they were both original members of the “Our Town” Facebook group but went on to create their own group this year.
“We wanted to concentrate on helping our community,” Pastore said.
Corey Delikat, city director of parks and recreation, said the city appreciates the group’s efforts and said there are many others who help clean up Port Angeles as well.
Delikat said the city just doesn’t have the staff to what groups like this do and that he is thankful for all those who volunteer.
“There’s so many people doing this type of thing that don’t get recognition,” he said. “It takes community to keep up on these things.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].