Volunteers ‘Adopt’ UWS Blocks To Clean; 70 Have Already Stepped Up

Jake Russell.

By Lisa Kava

One Texas native turned Upper West Sider is on a mission to clean up trash in the neighborhood — one block at a time.

Jake Russell, a real estate tech professional, established Facebook group OneBlock UWS on August 24th. The organization consists of volunteers who “adopt” an Upper West Side block to clean. Each volunteer must commit to picking up trash on their adopted block twice a week. OneBlock has grown quickly; in just a few days 70 people have joined.

Russell, who remained on the Upper West Side throughout the pandemic, began to notice areas of concern in the community he had grown to love. “I knew that our neighborhood was hit hard by budget cuts and economic changes. I had been trying to think of how I could help,” he explained. Russell realized he was often stepping over trash on daily walks. “I wanted to take an action that was immediate in its execution, replicable and inexpensive. Picking up trash fit that bill.”

So Russell decided to start by cleaning up his own block, 76th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam. He purchased a trash grabber and garbage bags at Beacon Hardware and went right to work. ”It took about 15 minutes” Russell told West Side Rag. “I found solace, encouragement, and hope through the simple act of picking up trash on my street.”

The next day, Russell posted about his experience in the Upper West Siders for Safer Streets Facebook group and received an overwhelming response. “My phone buzzed the rest of the day as the post racked up hundreds of likes and comments. People were thankful, appreciative and inspired.”

Russell decided to take his idea a step further; he developed a google form and asked potential volunteers to claim an Upper West Side block to clean. He posted the form in the Facebook group and was met with even more enthusiasm; within 24 hours over 40 people signed up to volunteer.

On August 24th, Russell developed his own Facebook group called OneBlock UWS.

Russell describes the group on the FB page as:

“Community driven. Action focused. Zero complaining. OneBlock exists for those who are willing to take action, and be part of the solution. OneBlock believes in the power of neighbors working together.”

A map of blocks claimed by volunteers in green.

As of Friday August 28th, OneBlock’s 70 volunteers have claimed approximately 60 blocks on the Upper West Side (Russell will allow two people to claim the same block.) Word has traveled quickly: people from Brooklyn and the Upper East Side have reached out to Russell with the hope of starting similar groups.

Hila Paldi, one of OneBlock’s first volunteers told West Side Rag she noticed a significant increase in trash in the “ten block radius around the Lucerne ever since the men were moved in.” When Paldi learned about OneBlock the idea resonated with her and she was excited about the chance to help.

”We can take our streets back by keeping them clean…Many of us have lived here for years. We care about our neighborhood and want to preserve it,” said Paldi, who quickly purchased a trash-grabber on Amazon and has picked up garbage on her adopted block twice. “A few people who have seen me thanked me. One person asked why I was doing it, and when I explained nodded in agreement.” Paldi plans to pick up trash on her block every other day.

Jake Russell and his wife plan to remain in the neighborhood for the foreseeable future; the couple recently signed a new lease on the Upper West Side. “I love the parks, the food and the people. I love the easy access to other parts of the city with the two subway lines. NYC is in for a tough couple of years but I believe that the Upper West Side is primed to be the neighborhood that leads the comeback.”

OneBlock is planning an organized group trash pick up on Sunday August 30th at 9 a.m. The group will meet at the Northeast corner of Broadway and 73rd Street and will proceed to walk up Broadway to at least 83rd Street picking up trash from both sides of the street as well as the medians. All are welcome and volunteers should bring gloves and trash grabbers. Trash bags will be provided. Russell is asking volunteers to wear closed toe shoes and either a green t-shirt or green hat. “OneBlock will be using the color green as a theme for many of our actions.”

To volunteer with OneBlock fill out and submit this form: click here.

OneBlock can be found on Facebook at OneBlock UWS or on Instagram @oneblockUWS. And stay tuned – “I have some big plans in the works,” Russell exclaimed.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 19 comments | permalink
    1. Nelson says:

      Thank you Jake! Coincidentally, I walked that block of 76th Street this morning and was so struck by how lovely it was, I Instagrammed an “I ❤️ UWS” pic. This is a bright spot in challenging times.

    2. UpperWest says:

      Great stuff!

    3. Jon says:

      Jake is a true Upper West Sider!!!


    4. AC says:

      Love this! Very much needed and something that so many Upper West Siders can do (safely, outside and distanced) while many of us our in and around our neighborhood these days. Looking forward to signing up and helping out!

    5. Lizzie says:

      Don’t forget our parks. They are taking a beating, with reduced Parks Department crews and heavier than usual usage. Please, if you picnic in the park, carry your food waste and food packaging home, so it doesn’t get scattered by rats and raccoons.

      And if you regularly walk in the park (dog owners, I’m looking at you!), once a week take a trash bag and plastic glove and pick up trash.

      We’re all in this together!

    6. Yvette Romero says:

      I would like to know how else to get in touch with Jake as I don’t participate in Facebook.

    7. jules says:

      That is SO brilliant! What a wonderful person!
      Thank you so much all you terrific cleaning volunteers!!
      The UWS looks so bad.. With ugly scaffolding that stays up forever and streets and sidewalks that need washing down a lot more often the place could look so much more wonderful! Shame on those lazy bastards who don’t bother to find a bin. Taking discarded garbage away is a serious improvement!
      Thank you; thank you; thank you all!!

    8. Elizabeth Kellner says:

      Where do bring the trash which you have picked up after you are done? I have been cleaning a couple of blocks in my Manhattan Valley neighborhood for several years now, all year round. I go out almost every morning. A couple of years ago the city removed 50% of the corner bins, residents continue to use those that remain for their household trash, they quickly become full with fewer pick ups, the dog poop bags overflow, and I end up leaving my bag of what I have collected on the sidewalk next to the bin. These past few months I pick up lots of discarded masks and gloves as well as the usual stuff.

    9. Donna Brent says:

      Absolutely a wonderful idea. Why did it take someone from outside the city to think of and actually do these
      Our elected officials should take a lesson

    10. Bina says:

      Hardware stores should give people pickers and trash creators like Macdonald s should supply trash bags

    11. Margaret says:

      Applause! Applause! A practical and neighborly solution to our current economic plight. Please emphasize masks and gloves.

    12. Jan says:

      We must be on the same wave length. I’ve been self-volunteering for the past two weeks by picking up trash in Verdi Park at 73/Bdwy. It takes 5 minutes. A lovely respite we have not had before (remember 20 yrs ago) and it was just instinct to try to keep it nice.
      Hurrah and kudos to you. It’s this kind of creative thinking that will save our City and solve the homeless problem. Think Tiny House Village somewhere out of the City

      • Lisa says:

        Jan I’ve been doing the same on 72nd and Columbus. It is time to take our streets back and we the citizens have that power. I was on the Upper East Side yesterday and it’s so clean over there.

    13. Gabriella Contestabile says:

      I can’t be there on the 30th but want to participate going forward. My husband does as well. Thank you for this. Community engagement is what we need. Happy to do whatever we can

    14. Deborah Kaplan says:

      A wonderful idea and a great way to get involved and keep our uws clean and beautiful. Sanitation budget has been cut by 30% during the week and 60% on weekends. Dept of Parks has been cut also. Riverside Park is experiencing increased trash overfow too. It’s amazing what one idea and one individual can do! Thanks Jake.

    15. Ajit Thomas says:

      I want to help.

    16. UpperWest says:

      This deserves another mention. They were out in force on Sunday and did an extraordinary job on Broadway in the upper 70s. It was inspiring to watch some of the residents in this neighborhood step up when public bodies have let them down.

      As they cleaned they gained adherents; people joined in. I saw someone grab a broom from the Belleclaire, for example, and join to clean the Broadway Malls median on 77th.

    17. Ruth Bonnet says:

      This story made my day! Go Jake! This is fabulous!