Volunteering on MLK Day: Guest Blogger, John Reinhart

You don't see it at first. The stuff.
You see the river, rimmed with ice, and the sky and the boats at anchor. You see the marshy shoreline, stark in its tangled winter cover in countless hues of brown.
I'd come this morning to the Dyke Marsh area of the Potomac River - directly south of Old Town Alexandria on the George Washington Parkway - to help remove debris from the river's edge.
Not much to do, I thought. I was wrong because you just don't see it at first. At least, I didn't.
But I tromped south with 12 to 15 others. We scattered along the shoreline south of the marina and slowly colors began to emerge. Blues and greens, reds and whites, that didn't belong to nature. Slowly the eye begins to pick out the dull gleam of dirty plastic bottles.
Only then do you begin to realize the sad task confronting us.
Perhaps a hundred people were drawn to this service project. I'm certain many - like me - came to honor the memory of Martin Luther King and to honor the promise of a new President.
The volunteers were of every age. There were parents with their children. Some of the kids young enough to be distracted by the shells cast up by the water. There were mothers with their 20-something daughters, teens and retirees and a Congressional aide (from Rep. Jim Moran's office).
The clean-up was sponsored by the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) and the Friends of Dyke Marsh.
The volunteers were scattered along a mile, perhaps two of the Potomac shoreline. The debris they hauled from the river's edge was impressive.
Trash sacks bulged with water bottles (lots of water bottles), soda bottles and soda cans, beer cans, juice bottles, baby bottles, energy drinks, potato chip sacks, random bits of Styrofoam (it's the worst) and plastic in countless configurations. Volunteers also dredged up several discarded automobile tires.
Spirits were high. It was a good morning - sunny, dry, in the low 30s - and a good cause.
One day won't do, of course. Return next week, next month, and another impressive mound of trash could be hauled away from the river's edge.
All that trash made me angry, sad and determined. All those volunteers made me hopeful. I will be back. I hope you'll join me next time.
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