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Public encouraged to help with clean-up project

By By Penny Randall / staff writer
Oct. 6, 2002
Nine different community organizations have come together to sponsor a downtown clean-up project Oct. 18-19.
Leslie York, chairperson of the Downtown Clean-up Task Force, and Michael Gibson, president of the Meridian Downtown Association spoke with The Meridian Star's editorial board to explain why the clean-up project is taking place and how the public can get involved.
The Meridian Star: Tell us a little about the clean-up effort and how it got started?
Leslie York: We decided to try and have a clean-up to get people interested in taking care of our community. We were thinking about the industrial park and how people came together to clean it up. A lot of people have come together to sponsor the event: Keep Meridian/Lauderdale County Beautiful, Main Street Meridian, Meridian Downtown Association, city of Meridian, Lauderdale County board of supervisors, East Mississippi Business Development Corporation, Meridian Community College, the Lauderdale County Tourism Bureau and Waste Management. But we are now looking for volunteers from all across the community.
The Star: When is the event?
York: Oct. 18-19, a Friday and Saturday, so if the businesses want to have their employees participate during the day, they can do so during business hours on Friday. Youth, church groups and volunteer organizations can participate on Saturday.
The Star: When you say "clean-up effort" what does that entail and what do you hope to accomplish?
York: Our primary focus will be to clean up the downtown area as far as trash and the heavy weed areas that are overgrown. Besides that, it's an effort to get all the different groups around the community involved and build on the momentum that's been happening downtown. We want to assure people that downtown belongs to everybody and it's not just a city issue we want the county and surrounding areas to get involved also.
Michael Gibson: We look at it, especially with the Downtown Association, as the downtown area being the heart of our city. With the new businesses coming in, we want to be able to take that momentum and let it overflow to the rest of the city. It all starts in the heart of the city and overflows from there.
When Leslie first approached the EMBDC about doing something like this, the Downtown Association thought is was great because it shows that once again we are supporting something that is going on downtown.
York: One of the other things that is merely a coincidence is that the Legislative Affairs Committee will visit Meridian the next weekend. The EMBDC had already planned to bring them through downtown to show them the Opera House and the other developments. That just added more momentum to the clean-up so we can get in there and really spruce things up before that weekend. It will really make an impression and once again we are just trying to build on the momentum that is already there.
The Star: Do you have a lot of commitments from businesses and organizations to pitch in?
York: We sent out approximately 1,500 letters and the deadline is Monday. We're starting to get them back. One of the things that has been really nice is that we have a lot of support from the county.
The Star: Can people still help if they don't meet the Monday deadline?
York: Yes, we're just trying to get them in so we can see how many people we will have to assign to the different lots. You can also just show up that day. You can just arrive and we will send you to a location.
Gibson: There are also circumstances where, maybe, you don't have the manpower to send 10 people. But you say, my business is downtown and I can make the commitment that I will get out and pull my weeds and put flowers in flower pots or I'm going to clean my windows or do a little painting. We are also letting folks know that they can tend to their own businesses.
York: The other thing is just to draw attention to not littering. If it catches on in downtown we will go and do it in another part of the community.
Gibson: Maybe we will go to North Meridian, West Meridian or the College Park area once we get downtown situated. You have to have that initial starting point.
The Star: How do you maintain the appearance of cleanliness without having to come back two weeks later and do the same thing over again?
York: It goes back to community pride. Everyone has to just make a commitment.
Gibson: We are going to need the publicity and support from the media. So people see that it's not just us, but it's the whole city of Meridian taking pride.
The Star: What is the area that you will be cleaning up?
Gibson: From Front Street to 14th Street and 29th Avenue to 35th Avenue.
The Star: Do you think the clean-up will help attract residents to the condominiums or businesses in downtown?
Gibson: Yes, absolutely.
York: I would have to say so, too. It shows that the community is taking an initiative and that they want improvements.