Volunteer Street-Cleaning Group ‘OneBlock’ Sees Exponential Growth In Just a Few Days


A OneBlock group photo.

By Lisa Kava

OneBlock, an organization comprised of volunteers who “adopt” one Upper West Side block to clean twice weekly, has grown almost overnight. The group was founded on August 24th by Upper West Sider Jake Russell, who wanted to create positive change in the neighborhood and noticed he was stepping over garbage regularly.

Word spread quickly as enthusiasm for the idea became contagious. OneBlock grew from 70 volunteers covering 60 blocks on August 28th to 280 volunteers covering 120 blocks on September 2nd, according to Russell, who allows more than one volunteer to claim the same block. Approximately 100 of the adopted blocks fall within the radius between West 70th to West 96th Street from Central Park West to Riverside Drive.

On Sunday August 31st, Russell held OneBlock’s first group clean up.  The event was a success. Thirty volunteers met at the Northeast corner of Broadway and 73rd Street at 9 a.m. and divided into two teams; one team traveled up Broadway and one team up Amsterdam picking up trash. Volunteers wore green t-shirts and hats (the color green is a theme of OneBlock) and carried trash grabbers. Russell’s goal for the morning was to clean trash up to 83rd Street but many volunteers stayed on and continued to 88th Street.  “It took about an hour and a half and the streets were pristine” said Russell. “People stopped us and asked what we were doing. Everyone was thankful and supportive.”

Russell is encouraged by the immediate positive response to his idea. He expected interest but did not anticipate how quickly the group would grow. “I am not surprised to find so many people who want to help this community but I am surprised at the speed of it all,” Russell told West Side Rag in a phone interview.

Russell is hoping to cover as many blocks on the Upper West Side as possible with volunteers. Future plans include potentially incorporating into a 5013c nonprofit organization. OneBlock t-shirts are in the works.

Russell launched a GoFundMe on September 2nd to fundraise for 20,000 trash bags and 300 t-shirts. With the financial support of real estate broker and OneBlock volunteer Ann Cutbill Lenane of Douglas Elliman, Russell has hired a van with a three person crew to travel on Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues and Broadway “bagging the trash that is in the can, placing a new bag in the can, and repeating that process as the bags get close to full.” The van will travel between 73rd Street and 96th Street on Amsterdam and Broadway and between 73rd Street and 83rd Street on Columbus Avenue.

To volunteer for OneBlock fill out and submit this form.

OneBlook can be found on Facebook or on Instagram @OneBlockUWS. Jake Russell can be reached by email at OneBlockuws@gmail.com.

NEWS | 43 comments | permalink
    1. Alex says:

      Congratulations !!! Great job
      Thank you so very much but how does One can join if interested?

    2. CB says:

      This is so beautiful. What a wonderful civic effort. These volunteers are the best. You inspire me and warm my heart and I am going to donate this very minute.

      Thank you for contributing to our neighborhood, volunteering your time and energy and labor, and making things better.

    3. Kayson212 says:

      Great idea, but why does the territory stop at 96th Street? I thought the north boundary of the UWS was 110th Street. What say you, WSR?

      • Jake russell says:

        We have lots of volunteers north of 96th, including some north of 110th. The portion of our efforts that will be stopping at 96th is the paid avenue cleanup. The cost for this is very high and it is important that we focus on an area that is small enough to make a huge difference. Making that large difference will hopefully allow us to find additional sponsors that will allow us to continue that paid program, and hopefully expand it geographically as well.

        • SIG says:

          I applaud this initiative. Kudos Jake. What an amazing and productive way to focus energy and produce change. I follow both dueling facebook groups and this is a great way to work together. I also think the garbage is what I notice the most around the neighborhood (and not necessarily an increase in the homeless).

          Question: How much additional money needed to continue the van pick up to 110th street so all of the upper west side benefits? I would help in raising those funds.

    4. Elliot says:

      Still got it. 😘 to the UWS. Many thanks.

    5. UWS_lifer says:

      This. Is. Awesome!!!

      I tip my cap to all of you but especially to Jake Russell. This kid is a credit to our neighborhood and a real mench. His parents should be very proud.

    6. Erica says:

      Imagine if that other group would have used the $100k they fundraiser to senselessly trying to sue the city for giving unhomed people shelter from COVID, for this. Getting my stick this weekend!

    7. Pedestrian says:

      Thank you!

    8. AllyneZ says:

      I live on 57th street and 9 th Avenue. Any readers interested in heading south?

    9. Liz says:

      This is a wonderful effort and I congratulate all who are helping. But it does raise the question of why it takes a private volunteer initiative to clean our city when we pay so much in taxes.

    10. Larry says:

      This is a wonderful idea and congratulations on it’s success. I feel that the clean up should be encouraged to continue north past 96th Street to at least 110th Street. 96th Street should no longer be a demarkation for anything good.

    11. this is amazing I live on 62nd and Columbus and am away now but can we set this up in my neighborhood?

    12. Susan says:

      What a beautiful story, sense of community and camaraderie! Way to go, UWS! Sincere thanks to all.

    13. geoff says:

      where are, or what happened to, the men in the blue boiler suits who used to do this work? they humbly cleaned streets on which they did not live as part of a campaign, or payback service or something — all i know is that i was so appreciative of their work that i would ‘tip’ them a $10 or a $20 (which would surprise them, big time) with a hat tip of thanks.

      • Lisa says:

        You are talking about the Doe Fund. They have a contract with the Columbus Ave. Business Improvement District to clean from W. 67th St. to W. 82nd St. They are still on the job but it would seem more is needed. http://www.columbusavenuebid.org/about.php

        • CB says:

          My parents always donated to the Doe Fund.

          I am going to do so now, too.

          Thank you for reminding us about this good organization.

          It keeps the streets clean and also gives those men a second chance and a paycheck.

          Those men deserve our gratitude, as well.

          Should others like to join me:
          https://www.doe.org/

        • geoff says:

          thanks for the details. i hope their work is not displaced by this ‘outsourcing’. my first reaction would be to hire more Doe Fund workers.

          • Jake russell says:

            That was our first thought as well. Expanding existing programs would have been much easier than the creation of a new one. After discussions with each program they were unable to expand their coverage, so we are working to fill in the gaps.

        • Gail says:

          They are amazing! I live on 79th and Columbus and I see them almost every day!

    14. Leon says:

      Kudos to Jake Russell and all involved. What a great idea. Thanks to everyone for their efforts. He has my vote for any office he chooses to run for.

      Just curious – what do they do with the full bags of trash?

    15. Drianne says:

      It’s incredible to think we all walk on the same streets, me typing this and you reading this. It’s so important we look after each other, and our spaces. This clean up is really showing how contagious kindness can be.

      THANK YOU 🙂

    16. Helen M Bernstein says:

      What happened to The Doe Fund and Goddard Green Keepers? I haven’t seen them around lately.

      • Lizzie says:

        Greenkeepers has just contracted with the Riverside Park Conservancy. Here’s Dan Garodnick of the RPC, in an email from yesterday:

        “We have retained the Greenkeepers, a crew from Goddard Riverside, to help us address this growing problem. The Greenkeepers started yesterday, and will be out in the Park from Monday to Saturday, for several hours a day, bagging garbage, picking up trash – and helping us to keep Riverside Park clean. We are already seeing a positive impact.

    17. Sheila says:

      Great project! Thank you for organizing the community team. I am in.

    18. Bobby says:

      Heroes. Thank you.

    19. Catherine Holmes says:

      Annie gets it done again!!

    20. Liza Carroll says:

      I live on W. 75th St. I sometimes sweep my property and pick up litter. At my expense I plant flowers in front of my building and it really makes my plain building look prettier. I am ultra impressed that volunteers are keeping the area cleaner. I am sending all the volunteers a hug and a huge THANK YOU.

    21. Doreen says:

      Thank you to all involved in this project. Has there been any effort to enlist homeless people in the cleanup? If they had a purpose and felt that they were contributing to the community, we might see less aimless hanging out on the streets.

    22. Buddy Revell says:

      Many thanks to the volunteers that do this. Perhaps it wouldn’t be necessary if people were more thoughtful and didn’t just throw their trash on the street? There are trash cans at every corner yet people can’t be bothered to deposit their trash. Makes me furious and I without hesitation confront people that do it. Nobody has a right to trash our front ards…

    23. Tara Black says:

      Amazing work. Than you Jake for taking the initiative and thanks to all our UWS neighbors for stepping up. What a wonderful community we have here.

    24. PTFLynn says:

      Kudos to the organizers. Please continue to keep us posted on their progress.

    25. Debbie G. says:

      Wonderful! Broadway in the high 90s needs you too. Have you considered expanding up here and into Riverside Park?

      Thank you so much for what you do!

    26. Ellen Galkin says:

      The west 69th block Assoc did this a number of months ago. Great civic responsibility.

    27. Josh P. says:

      Bring back alternate side parking so we can have the professional street sweepers do this job for us again!

    28. Upper West Sider says:

      This is amazing!! Great job! Is there anyway to cover the lower part of UWS too? Maybe start at 59th street?

    29. LivableCity says:

      To those asking about the Doe Fund: reports from this summer reveal they claim to pay their workers minimum wage but then require a $259 per week payment from them for “job training” fees, leaving them with less than Federal minimum wage for their 35 hour week..

      https://theappeal.org/doe-fund/

      I always appreciate the work those folks do in our crowded area, and had contributed in the past to TDF, but was disheartened to hear and then read this recently.

      Plundering the poor under guise of support is an old old story, and it is shameful. Even though the issue has been litigated before, nominally do-good groups will try it again. Do better, Doe Fund!

    30. Congratulations to Jake Russell. We need more Jake Russells in this world! My block is not so dirty but am volunteering anyway to help keep it that way. Will also donate. My only worry is that we might take away a paid job from someone who needs it but that does not seem to be a concern at the moment.