by Captain Daniel Simmons
When my wife and I were given the responsibility to oversee the East St. Louis, Ill., Corps in addition to the rest of St. Clair County, we knew God wanted us to be a beacon of hope, reflecting the love of Jesus. As we prayed about how to do this, we felt we should clean up our community.
We were to show His love in a very practical way—picking up the trash. East St. Louis used to be a place of beauty; however, people have lost what it means to hope for a future. We want to be a part of restoring what has been lost and broken, beginning simply by cleaning up the neighborhood.
Every Tuesday from 10:00 a.m. to noon, The Salvation Army of St. Clair County mobilizes a team and cleans a section of East St. Louis. Often the team consists of members of the corps, our staff, my wife and me. Through our Facebook page other people have learned what we’re doing and have volunteered to help.
We drive our canteen to a very visible location and fill trash bags with garbage. Each time we gather from 150 to 400 pounds of trash in two hours. We leave signs throughout East St. Louis saying “Cleaned by your local Salvation Army” so that other churches, companies and neighbors can join our cause. After just our second week of cleaning up the community, people started coming out of their homes to help. As one man said, “It takes one to start, and other likeminded individuals to take part.”
How can one person or team make a difference picking up trash when there are literally tons upon tons of garbage throughout East St. Louis? The neighbors near the empty lots say they’re grateful not to have to look at a sea of trash every day, and the lots have stayed relatively clean.
Picking up the trash is just a start. Ultimately, the goal is for East St. Louis to function like any well-maintained city with clean streets, a low crime rate and a good school system. As a result of meeting these tangible needs, we hope many people will come to know Jesus as their personal Savior.