Grass roots effort plans Olympia needle cleanup

A community cleanup of trash and dirty needles has been organized by a Facebook page that pokes fun at Olympia.

So far, Olympia Memes has recruited 14 sponsors and 16 teams of volunteers for “Oly Clean in 2014.” The inaugural event will take place all day March 22 at sites throughout the city, and will culminate with a pizza party to thank participants.

Although best known for posting off-beat photos that joke about Olympia’s stereotypes and shortcomings, Olympia Memes is serious about safer parks and streets. The manager behind Olympia Memes — who maintains anonymity — talked to The Olympian through Facebook chat about investing in the community.

“When I found myself making memes about needles downtown and feeling they were way more sad than funny, I knew it was time to do something, and that’s how Oly Clean was born,” the manager wrote. “The message in this event isn’t for our city leaders as much as it is for the individual. My hope is that we can capture a sense of real community that hasn’t been felt in our area in a long time.”

Olympia Memes has already demonstrated a knack for bringing people together. Last September, the page organized a fundraiser to cover funeral expenses for a homeless man named Derrick “Dudeman” McDougal. The page has helped a local woman find her biological parents, and even rallied up a massive “Harlem Shake” dance at the State Capitol Building.

For the Oly Clean event, Olympia Memes will provide garbage bags, gloves, snacks and refreshments. Thurston County Syringe Exchange Program will supply each team with a container for bio-hazardous materials. In addition to downtown alleys and streets, the cleanup will focus on parks, including Marathon Park, Capitol Lake Park, Centennial Park, Percival Landing Park and Sunrise Park.

Eastside neighborhood resident Jessica Archer is rounding up volunteers for Team Concerned Olympians, who will meet at Madison Scenic Park for their share of the cleanup. Archer runs a blog titled Concerned Olympians and writes often about the city’s heroin and needle problems.

At the very least, Archer hopes the cleanup event will raise more awareness of the issue. Her two small children have stumbled upon drug paraphernalia in parks and trails, and she has heard stories about other kids getting pricked by dirty needles.

“I feel like the community is really starting to realize how much of a problem it is,” said Archer, who lauded Madison Elementary School’s recent effort to protect students from drug debris. “We still see needles and baggies on our walk to school almost daily, so it’s still an issue outside of the school grounds.”

The county’s exchange program collected about 950,000 needles in 2012, and more than 1 million needles in 2013. The program requires drug users to trade dirty needles for clean ones at no charge. However, there are other groups that distribute free needles in Olympia without requiring an exchange. Last year, the city also began tracking discarded needles in the downtown area, and had counted 269 between August and mid-October, The Olympian reported.

Learn more: The Oly Clean in 2014 event takes place March 22. Start times vary among the different volunteer cleanup groups, and some groups are kid-friendly. To learn more, visit Olympia Memes on Facebook.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869


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