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'Forever Oakland' Brings Volunteers Together to Tackle Trash Pickup

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- A trash pickup took place in Oakland Saturday. It wasn't very big or organized but it was a reminder that hope, like any long journey, begins with a single step.

Twenty-two years ago, Greg "Griz" Jones put up some tents and began feeding the homeless on days before Raiders games. His "Forever Oakland" initiative has grown into a dedicated group of volunteers who show up on Saturdays to do the dirty work the city won't do.

"Citizens like us have decided to take the bull by the horns," Griz said. "To step up and raise our level of helping Oakland make Oakland whole again."

San Leandro Street runs along the BART tracks and is covered with trash and filth thrown from cars or dragged in by the homeless. That's where Ashanti Branch was Saturday and he brought along his friend Ivan Maldonado, visiting from Southern California.

"He said, 'do you want to come along?' and I was like, 'let's do it,'" said Maldonado. "On the way here, I'm like -- 'wait, what are we doing exactly?'"

The two took on a task that seemed insurmountable. Next to the sidewalk, the ground was packed six inches thick with garbage.

"All you can do is all you can do and 'all you can do' is enough," Branch said. "So, I don't feel pessimistic."

The two powered on. Occasionally, a driver would yell out a "thank you," but no one stopped to lend a hand. Ivan began wondering what would make people so callous to their city that they would throw trash from their cars.

"If you care about it, you will keep it clean," he said. "But, if we don't feel at home, if we feel like maybe we don't belong, then we stop caring and it reaches a point like this."

After an hour, all their bags were full and they had cleaned one 40-foot section. Some may say it was a waste of time in the midst of so much garbage but Branch and Maldonado had a different take. They saw it as a beginning.

"I feel like kids, adults can see these things," Maldonado said. "Maybe plant that seed unconsciously in their minds and they're, like, 'maybe I can do that too.'"

"What if everybody just said ... my responsibility is to give one hour a month -- one hour a week, one hour a year -- to making this better," Branch said. "We could turn this city around."

Sometimes the problems facing places like Oakland can feel pretty hopeless but then determined people show up and remind us that hope isn't about success. It's about making the effort.

For those wishing to join their effort, "Forever Oakland" hosts its cleanup every Saturday on 66th Avenue, directly across the street from the entrance to the Oakland Coliseum.

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