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Picking up, giving back
Local students assist annual statewide effort
Finding items smaller than bottle caps and bigger than couches, dozens of Yuba-Sutter teens hauled tons of trash from the river bottoms on Saturday as part of the 28th annual Coastal Cleanup Day.
For three hours, more than 140 volunteers — mostly youths — scoured beaches and plodded through bushes to uncover piles of trash littering the Yuba River off Simpson Lane.
During Yuba County's 12th year participating in the statewide event, volunteers hauled in 19,610 pounds of waste — bringing the total trash collection from the Yuba and Feather rivers over the years to 203,892 pounds.
"Other than needing a civic experience, I wanted just to help out to make it a better environment," said Jordanne English, 17. "There was a lot of trash out there that wasn't going to decompose into the ground."
She and other social science students from Marysville High School said their first Coastal Cleanup Day was an eye-opener, both in volume of trash and living situations of the area's homeless.
"It's important because it's helping the environment, and people who go to help actually get to see what it's like for these people," said Angelica Villalobos, 17. "It's pretty sad."
Wearing thick gloves, volunteers grabbed armfuls of trash and shoved it into garbage bags. Mostly the result of homeless encampments and illegal dumping, the debris is a mix of furniture, clothing, household items, plastic and bedding that should not be near the river, students said.
"The stuff is going in the ground, and it can really damage the environment," said Katlyn Toepford, 17.
It was a bit mind-boggling to see all the waste discarded in the otherwise natural environment, the teens agreed.
"I don't think they really know what they are doing — 'I'm just gonna throw this bottle. It's one thing, it doesn't make a big difference,'" said Violet Becker, 17.
This year's cleanup also included a contest to find the most unusual or weird items. Submissions included a jar of pickles, a toy unicorn and a tattered copy of "The Shack," found in an abandoned homeless encampment.
As far as Yuba-Sutter is from the ocean, its waterways provide a path for tons of trash, waste and debris to pollute shorelines and seas, said Stephanie Kendall of Yuba County Environmental Health, which organizes the local cleanup. If that trash made its way into the Yuba River, it was destined for the Sacramento River and would eventually reach the San Francisco Bay.
The teens said the cleanup event should happen more than once a year, even if on a small scale. It's a good idea to get youth involved, they said, because it's educational on environmental and social levels.
"It makes you care about your community," Violet said.
Other student volunteers came from science and other social science classes, as well as several Boy Scout troops. Kendall said the annual event would not be possible without aid from Recology Yuba-Sutter, the Fish and Game Commission, Yuba County Water Agency, Save Mart, Marysville Police and several departments with Yuba County.
Marysville High teacher Steve White said he requires civic engagement from all of his students, whether it's volunteering at a parade, making care packages for soldiers, going on police ride-alongs or helping an elderly neighbor with chores.
"I'm just big on my students giving back to the community that gives to them," he said.