EAST MILTON — Some Lakeside Drive neighbors who began gathering for monthly brunch have turned their interest toward improving the community.
The women had been meeting for monthly brunches about two years, according to member Theresa McCombs.
“Then we started saying we wanted to do stuff in the community, and several of us are members of the Blackwater Pyrates,” McCombs said. The Pyrates is a civic organization dedicated to maritime history preservation, boater safety and river cleanups. “The neighborhood used to do it years ago but it fell by the wayside … so I said we need to do it and stay on top of it.”
The Lakesiders, as they call themselves, began with Wednesday maintenance on Johnson Road.
“One of the women had been cleaning the road for years, mostly by herself on Saturdays, but that did not work for most of us,” member Frances Andrews said. “So, we decided to pick another day and get started on a regular basis because Johnson Road gets so cluttered and that looks bad for our part of the world.”
Andrews said the group doesn’t want to have any official structure.
“None of us wants to be organized. We just want to be good citizens,” she said.
Santa Rosa Green Up sponsored the cleanup with grants from Keep America Beautiful and the Florida Department of Transportation. Kevin Smith, with Santa Rosa Clean Community System, provided bags, pickup sticks and safety vests for the group, he said.
Keep America Beautiful is a national nonprofit that aims to end littering, improve recycling and beautify America’s communities, according to the organization’s website, www.kab.org. FDOT provides an annual grant of $15,000 to help support Keep America Beautiful affiliates like Santa Rosa Clean Community System System.
Andrews connected with Smith through their membership at First United Methodist Church in Milton, according to Smith.
“Frances knew I ran Santa Rosa Clean Community System and asked me if they could be part of it and clean up the road and if I had materials,” Smith said. “They had about 12 ladies out there. They picked up 12 bags of garbage in one hour,” he said.
During the cleanup, two members found a pair of abandoned guinea pigs in a cage.
“Kevin Smith helped pick up the cage and took the animals along with him, making us an animal rescue group as well as garbage collectors. Life can be beautiful,” Andrews said.
Smith took the animals to the Santa Rosa County animal shelter. Santa Rosa County Animal Services Director Dale Hamilton said if authorities discover who abandoned the guinea pigs, he or she could face abandonment and animal cruelty charges, along with a $50 fine per animal.
The Lakesiders’ influence is spreading. During the cleanup, a passerby asked McCombs how he could start the same sort of initiative, she said.
“I said he needs to get a leader and promote (a cleanup) with his neighbors,” she said.
The Lakesiders plan to make the cleanup a monthly activity, and hope others follow their example, according to McCombs.
“What I envision is not just Johnson. I want it to be the whole entire area — but you’ve got to have people enthused,” she said.