Square Grouper bartender Lenore Baker used to spend her weekends relaxing on the boat at offshore sandbars – that is, until Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on her island home. After months of not seeing anything get done, she took matters into her own hands. “I started waking up in the middle of the night having nightmares about trash piles,” she said.

She was seriously tired of looking at it and worried about the health of the nearshore waters, “So I put on Facebook that I was going to start cleaning from this point to that point and if you want to join me, come on.”

The first week, 17 people showed up. Last weekend, 35 came out and collected 15,000 pounds of debris. “Imagine what we could do with 100 people,” she said. Three members of the Key West Rotary showed up last weekend to help and donated gloves to the cause. “We might even have a few trailers this week to take the debris straight to the dump, rather than piling it on the side of the road,” she said.

Lower Keys construction companies Pinewood and Botsford were quick to help out, donating time, equipment and dump trucks for the cleanup efforts.

Chris Thommes of Pinewood said he’s disappointed in the amount of trash on the side of the roads and in the mangroves. “Lenore called me and asked me to help out, and it’s a good cause and needs to be done,” he said.

Since the cleanups started, Baker and those who have come out to help, have cleaned Big Pine Key from Breezy Pines Estates to the Pine Channel Bridges … on both side of U.S. 1. On Sunday, they are tackling Summerland Key.

“It’s a group effort,” she said. “We are all in this together.”

Not shy of calling out the Board of County Commissioners and the governor, Baker said she will continue cleaning every weekend until the islands look beautiful again. “But, can we at least get them to pick up the piles we are making? We are doing most of the work for them,” her Facebook posts read.

“Never doubt a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead, scientist

Want to join the cleanups?

Baker will have her black Tahoe parked in front of Sea Boots on Summerland Key from 9 a.m. to noon on Sunday, Dec. 3. (Come for an hour, or come for the whole time.) She said she will be busy cleaning, but to help yourself to waters, gloves, and trash bags. She will be concentrating on the southbound side of the street. “This is a self-starter kind of thing,” she said. “Pick a spot and just start cleaning.”

A like-minded group of cleaners will also be doing a cleanup on Saturday, Dec. 2 at 9 a.m. on Cudjoe Key. Volunteer cleaners tackled areas on the Torches and Ramrod keys and a group has also organized in Key Largo.

If you have trash bags, waters, and gloves, it will save time to bring your own and be able to jump right into helping.



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Kristen Livengood is a Marathon High School and University of South Florida grad, mom of two beautiful little girls, and wife to some cute guy she met in a bar. She enjoys red wine, Tito's, Jameson, running (very, very slowly), and spearfishing.