Community, Springfield

Trash talk: ‘Love Where You Live’ cleans up Springfield

SPRINGFIELD – There are people who litter and people who pick up litter. Julie Sonam is the latter.

Sonam grew up on a farm in Central Oregon. She’s lived in Springfield for about 15 years and has been picking up litter since moving here – often while walking her dog, Huck.

Being a die-hard environmentalist who loves Springfield, Sonam launched in May Love Where You Live (LWYL) – a community service endeavor to pick up garbage and beautify the city.


“What feeds my soul is the planet because we all breathe the same air; we all drink the same water; we all sleep on the same soil; and we all live from food that we eat that comes out of the same dirt,” Sonam said. “We should be taking better care of our environment because this is our home.”

Sonam expressed her concerns about the unknown effects of plastic. She said, when plastic breaks down, it goes into the soil, then into the water and animals, which is how humans then consume plastic. She was especially concerned that plastic is an endocrine disruptor, which means plastic has endocrine-disrupting chemicals which may interfere with the body’s hormones and cause health problems.

Her way to combat the plastic problems is to pick it up when she sees it – whether that’s alone or with the Springfield community.

LWYL has had three cleanup events since May. Each cleanup is from 9-11 a.m. on the first Saturday of the month. The next cleanup is on Aug. 5, and volunteers will meet at the Springfield Public Library.

“Even if one new person came, it’s two more hands. It’s one more person that people in the group are meeting, and it builds community,” Sonam said. “I’ve always said from the beginning that if I’m the only one that’s at the garbage cleanup, and one other person comes, I would be happy because it’s not just me.”

The inspiration to create LWYL in Springfield came from a trip to Tucson, Ariz., where she stumbled upon Tucson’s LWYL organization, which focuses on inspiring Tucson residents to love their city and care about keeping it clean. Though she was just a visitor, she was inspired by the concept of loving a city so much that a sense of ownership motivates people to take care of it.

After her trip to Tucson, Sonam was “really grumpy” seeing so much garbage lining the streets and parks of Springfield. She felt that if people truly loved Springfield, they would feel a sense of responsibility to keep it litter-free and looking good.

“I just want people to feel ownership over the streets and the town,” Sonam said.

So she went to work. Sonam went to Springfield City Council to ask for help, speaking at two public forums in April to discuss her grievances. After realizing nobody was going to lead the initiative, she begrudgingly took the task on herself, creating LWYL in Springfield, with the help of Willamalane.

She calls herself a “reluctant leader.”

“I was like, ‘I’m just constantly irritated and complaining about the garbage, so I have to do something because nobody else is doing it,’” Sonam said. “I really don’t have time for it, but I also didn’t have time to keep complaining.”

Even though Sonam has been picking up garbage for over a decade, there is just too much garbage constantly accumulating for one woman to pick up.

“I don’t mind picking up the garbage when I’m on my dog walk. Whenever the garbage is in front of me, I’m going to pick it up – but it was more than that,” Sonam said. “I realized I just couldn’t get it all myself.”

Sonam met Alan Cline, Willamalane park ranger, by chance one afternoon, and they struck up a conversation after he offered to take her garbage and load it with his. He told her to reach out to Willamalane’s volunteer coordinator Maggie O’Driscoll, and Sonam did.

“A lot of people talk, and certain people just spring into action. I get the feeling that (Sonam’s) definitely an action person,” Cline said. “I’m really appreciative of what (LWYL does), but at the same time, I wish (LWYL) didn’t have to do it.”

This May, Sonam registered herself and LWYL with Willamalane, which meant she would have the benefit of some of Willamalane’s resources: trash bags, gloves, vests, a T-shirt, etc. Although she opts to use biodegradable trash bags and purchases those herself, she said Willamalane has been “extremely helpful.” Megan Murphy of Springfield Stream Team also provided Sonam with trash tongs as a long-term loan, which Sonam greatly appreciated.

Sonam’s friend Steve Morgan has spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars beautifying Springfield. He said Sonam and he are “two peas in a pod,” as they both care deeply about keeping Springfield litter-free.

Sonam said she does see people, like Morgan, picking up garbage, but the issue of community maintenance in Springfield became a passion of hers. Sonam even did an eight-day experiment to confirm that there was a trash issue in Springfield. She took photos of piles of trash in front of certain storefronts, and she went back every day for eight days. She watched people walk around the trash, nobody bending down to pick it up.

“Finally after eight days, I was like, ‘OK. They’re not going to pick it up,’” Sonam said.

LWYL was born from this experiment. After realizing the gravity of the situation, Sonam emailed every Springfield resident she knew, asking them to come to LWYL’s first cleanup at Pioneer Memorial Cemetary and Island Park. 

Jenya Lindstrom said she used to pick up garbage regularly, but she stopped because she was tired of picking up after other people. After going on walks with Sonam and seeing how she is always prepared with a garbage bag, ready to pick up litter, Lindstrom said her drive to pick up garbage was rekindled. When Sonam told Lindstrom about her beautification endeavor with LWYL, Lindstrom immediately thought about her two daughters, ages 2 and 5.

“I was like, ‘Oh, we’ll come. That’s great. That’s exactly in line with not only what I care about, but also what I want to teach my girls – to just care for place,’” Lindstrom said.

LWYL is an opportunity for community members to come together under one goal: keeping Springfield clean. Lindsey Black said she’s involved with LWYL because she wants “to contribute in some small way to helping the environment.” LWYL is slowly growing, and Sonam is hoping to get more Springfield residents involved.

“I would like it to be bigger, but we have been picking up a lot of garbage,” Sonam said. “It’s fun, too, because we’re doing it together.”

Sonam has an Instagram account called @SpringfieldTidyUp where people can follow and learn about cleanup opportunities. Her dream is to have 40 people show up to an event, so maybe that dream can be achieved on Aug. 5.

“I’m gonna keep doing it until I die,” Sonam said. “The first Saturday of every month, I will be picking up garbage – for probably the next 50 years, for however long I have left.”



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