LINCOLN SQUARE — We came across a jolly band of folks having a good old time pulling weeds and picking up leaves and trash on Western Avenue on Wednesday, across from Welles Park.
Our first instinct was to scurry past the do-gooders, for fear one of them might whip out a clip board and ask whether we supported clean water or baby seals. But then our curiosity got the better of us and we turned back.
"Excuse me, but what are you doing?"
Turned out this group of people had volunteered to clean up both sides of Western Avenue, from Lawrence to Montrose and back again, working in partnership with the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Square Special Service Area.
In addition to the weeds and leaves and trash, they'd come across "a lot of beer cans," said Jessie Vaca, the group's ringleader and pastor of Community Christian Church, which meets every Sunday a few blocks north on Lincoln Avenue.
He estimated they'd collected 300 to 400 pounds of trash at just the halfway point.
His crew included a husband and wife who'd come all the way from Ohio to enlist in similar efforts around Chicago.
"These guys are twice my age and they're working circles around me," Vaca said of his guests from the Buckeye State.
"Jessie's a slave driver," retorted Gary Brown, who jokingly chafed at the "twice as old" label.
More than just a community service opportunity, the cleanup had a practical purpose.
"We know there's a lot more potential on Western Avenue," said Rudy Flores, executive director of the Lincoln Square chamber.
With businesses like Baker Miller and the forthcoming Budlong Pickle & Chicken Shop opting to open on Western, as well as a planned transit-oriented development coming in the near future, the street will soon be bustling with added foot traffic.
"We want to create a more friendly environment," said Flores, noting that a number of planters had already been relocated from Lincoln to Western.
Lacking a huge staff of his own to do the dirty work, Flores turned to Vaca for help.
"They are always looking to do stuff," said Flores. "Anything we need volunteers for, we always turn to Community Christian."
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