Friday, June 23, 2017 This Week's Paper

Cleanup delivers the garden goods the curb no longer offers

Time was, if you needed a broken-down bookcase, dresser or desk, plus a roll of used carpet padding and maybe an ammo box or two, all you had to do was drive around Tacoma. You could harvest what you needed from alleys and the occasional sidewalk pile in an hour, two, tops.

That is how we planned to build Tacoma Weekly’s Workplace Garden.

We went with our own blight first, making raised beds out of two ratty (we are being literal here) wooden boxes, a discarded wall cupboard, and two plastic paper boxes from extinct publications. They barely dented our minimum delivery of three cubic yards of TAGRO potting soil. We needed more beds.

No problem, I thought. I will just cruise around and upload dead furniture into the old minivan.

I had not reckoned on the superpowers of Tacoma’s Community Based Services. Sure, over the past few years I have been writing about their ongoing war on blight and crime. We have even given them mascots, the Outta Here Elephants, as a way to visualize the tonnage of old mattresses, stray tires and dead barbecues they have gotten out of yards and alleys.

But I had no idea we were facing a shortage of free-range furniture until I went hunting for it. On May 17 I cruised parts of the East Side, South Tacoma and the South End. Zilch. No big piles of junk. There was one dresser, but it had all its drawers, which means it still had a use in the indoor world. Ditto a pretty matching sofa and chair that were gone a few hours later.

This does not mean we have de-junked the burg. There is stuff out there still, but it is not ubiquitous. It is not something that persuades out-of-town guests that, yeah, Tacoma is kind of a dump.

That is great news for our civic image, but fatal for my plan to get rid of the pile of TAGRO.

In desperation, I turned out for the combined First Creek and Dometop Neighborhood Cleanup at the Tacoma Dome parking lot on May 18.

The city provided dumpsters for metal, tires, lawn mowers and general trash.

Members of Jehovah Jireh Worship Center brought the muscle to toss stuff from pickups and trailers into the city’s dumpsters.

Volunteers with pickup trucks spread into the neighborhoods to pick up the stuff that residents did not bring in. Larry and Chase Scheidt, Marty and Sandy Campbell and Tony McBeath hauled in sofas, recliners and dozens of bags of trash and clippings. Just when they thought they were done, word came that an elderly hoarder wanted a yard full of stuff hauled away. Out they went again, trying to beat the dumpsters’ haul-away deadline.

Last year, the city hosted 18 cleanups and hauled away 472 tons of blight. Imagine 157 elephants parading out of town, and you have an idea of the bulk.

Not that the city is selfish with its tonnage. It recycles all the metal, and Goodwill brings a collection truck for items that can be salvaged and re-used as-is.

It also tolerates scavengers, the likes of Green Thumb Garden’s Tony Miller, McKinley Park volunteers Larry and Lynnette Scheidt and their always-volunteering kids and grandkids, and me.

We were scanning pickup beds for items too rough for Goodwill, but ripe for re-purposing.

Miller had the skills to fix an ornate-metalwork-and-slats garden bench. That delighted the man whose wife demanded that he get rid of it. It was too good for the landfill, too good to melt, he said.

The man who cleaned out his mother’s garage was pleased as iced tea punch to give a picnic table and matching stacking chairs to the Scheidts for McKinley Park, and a small wheelbarrow to our brave little garden.

Oh, there was more. Between us, carpenters’ benches, soaker hoses, a doll house, carpet padding made of recycled fabric, a desk, tool boxes, rakes, a pitchfork, planter boxes, patio furniture, hose reels and Cadillac Jack’s ammunition boxes averted the landfill.

All together, they amounted to a baby elephant’s worth of garden-repurposed goods, and proof that if you need it, Tacoma will provide.