For years, the residents of Groff Court in Northeast Washington have been trying without much access, to get the District government and the owners of property around their homes to clean up the broken glass, trash and discarded wood and plaster from the vacant lots that surround them.
One Saturday earlier this month, armed with brooms and trash bags donated by a local restaurant and tools from their own homes, more than a dozen residents of the short street between Third, Fourth, E and F streets NE, cleaned up the alley and the lots.
The work party was organized by Patrick Baikauskas, 512 Groff Court, as part of Capitol Hill Cleanup Day, a day-long citizen campaign sponsored by the French restaurant La Ruche and the Capitol Hill Rag, a neighborhood newspaper.
"We don't do any organizing this year. But just imagine what we can do if we get some of the neighborhood associations and the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions involved. Next year, I'm going to provide a thousand brooms," said La Ruche owner Yorgo Koropoulos.
Baikauskas said that the grass in the vacant lots is periodically cut by the city, but that much of it is owned by private citizens and that the city has no direct responsibility to clean up privately owned land.
"The trash problem is not caused by the people who live in the houses on this street. Kids who live on other blocks cause part of the problem and a lot of the trash is dumped here by people who are renovating houses nearby," said Charles Atcherson, whose house at 518 Fourth Street NE is in front of Groff Court.
"It takes the efforts of all of us who live around the court to keep the lots clean," Atcherson said.
According to Koropoulos, more than 250 capitol Hill residents and local merchants participated in the event.
"I'm amzed at the response we got from the one newspaper ad we ran in the Rag and the posters we had put up on the Hill," he said. "We got more response from the citizens than we did from the business community. Frankly, I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get more response from business."
Koropoulos said, however, that some merchants along Barracks Row and Eastern Market Row participated in the cleanup.
Koropoulos said he got the idea for the cleanup "because the streets around here were dirty. There is no reason for the streets in the capital of the world to be dirty. The people mess them up. The people can clean them up, too," he said.
Koropoulos said that he donated 100 brooms and scores of trash bags for the people who called in response to the newspaper ad and posters. Saturday, he and Rag co-publisher Keith Fagon spend much of the day driving around delivering brooms and trash bags to the people who had called.
Fagon, who took most of the phone calls, said that he got calls from people from 17th Street NE to the Capitol and from H Street NE to I Street to SE.
Koropoulos said District government officials agreed to provide four trucks to pick up trash that was collected. But by 4 p.m. the city trucks had not arrived. So Koropoulos called the private trash ramoval service he uses at the restaurant, and they sent trucks.
As an incentive to those who cleaned up, La Ruche served free champagne and soft drinks and fresh strawberry and raspberry tarts.
Koropoulos said he hopes to make the cleanup an annual event.