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Meet 'The Obsessed Garbage Collecting Lady' of Elmhurst

By Katie Honan | November 20, 2014 7:35am
 Jen Mantovani details the garbage she picks up in her neighborhood on a blog.
Garbage-'Obsessed' Woman Chronicles Trash-Strewn Elmhurst Streets
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ELMHURST— A woman who says she's “obsessed” with her neighborhood’s trash-strewn streets has begun cleaning them up herself, chronicling the often gross and bizarre findings on a blog that she hopes will help inspire others to chip in.

Jen Mantovani moved with her husband Joseph to Elmhurst from Brooklyn four years ago when he became the pastor at St. Jacobus Lutheran Church on 72nd Street.

She loved the neighborhood right away, she said, but was shocked by the amount of trash on the streets, which she blames on a lack of garbage bins.

“The Queens that I’ve seen — they don’t give us anywhere to put our trash,” said Mantovani, who works as a medical editor.

From food wrappers on 73rd Street to large appliances and concrete dumped along 43rd Avenue, the mess at first disgusted her, then made her angry.

And then it inspired her to act over the summer.

Mantovani, 35, began taking small plastic bags with her on her walks to the 74th Street subway station, the closest spot with public trash cans, she said.

This summer she started going out Saturday mornings with large garbage bags to tackle more of the neighborhood, spending about two hours cleaning up.

In September, she created her blog, The Obsessed Garbage Collecting Lady of Elmhurst, where she takes photos of the garbage she picks up — and some she’s too scared to touch.

The most frequent item is Q-tips, she said, along with food wrappers, household garbage, drug paraphernalia and clothes.

“The personal hygiene things bother me the most,” she said. “I was so shocked that people would dump that.”

The most disgusting items have been the bags and bottles of what she presumes is urine — which she jokingly calls “Elmhurst water balloons” on her blog.

“I try to do my part to pick up litter, but I draw the line at touching a flimsy bag full of urine,” she wrote.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Sanitation said, since it's a residential area, they wouldn't normally put public bins on the streets.

"Based on past experience if litter baskets were to be placed at this location, they would be misused," she said, explaining that many people place household garbage, which is not allowed, in the bins.

Mantovani has taken part in larger cleanups, like those arranged by the Woodside Neighborhood Association, which takes big groups of volunteers to tackle major cleanups and graffiti removal.

But her focus is on her solo route, mostly around 43rd Avenue and Woodside Avenue and 73rd and 74th streets.

It’s not always easy, but she thinks she is making a small difference.

“I think if they see one person doing it, hopefully they’ll do it too,” she said, adding that neighbors will often thank her when they see her cleaning.

“I just want everyone to care more.”