A morning with MAXaction, the Blue Line’s guerrilla cleanup crew

eric flores2For a lot of East Portlanders – especially those who’ve lived here for decades, since this was the edge of the city – MAX looks like the enemy.

Stations can become a gathering spot for gangs and a site for crime. They’re unadorned and undersupervised. As state Rep. Jeff Smith put it in an interview for our March issue, the Blue Line was built in the 80s "as a way to get through East Portland."

Or, as some residents angrily call it, the "criminal express."

Enter MAXaction, a subcommittee of the East Portland Action Plan. This new-ish group of do-gooders is built around Rep. Smith’s work to connect with his new constituents and around longtime residents’ desire to reimagine East Burnside’s Blue Line as a community asset.

What a great idea.

20 MAXaction volunteers hit the Burnside sidewalks Saturday morning in the group’s first big volunteer action: a much-needed spring litter cleanup.

Mike Vander Veen, one of the group’s co-organizers, said they hope to have volunteer events at least quarterly, and are now meeting on the third Friday of each month at Lifegate Baptist Church.

I don’t know how much these guys had to pay the weatherman, but the clouds parted and everybody seemed to have a great time (not to mention some terrific chocolate chip cookies at noon). Check out this short video interview with organizer Mike Vander Veen, or below the jump for photos…

daisy quinonez

Setting off from the Lifegate Baptist Church…

thumbs up

Eric Flores, with bag courtesy SOLV and trash grabber courtesy the East Portland Action Plan:

eric flores2

Pastor Renee Wood, an East Portland resident who helped conceive the event:

pastor renee wood

This is what the morning looked like if you happened to be a piece of garbage:


And here’s where you ended up.


Charles Smith said he’d been inspired by a couple who’d walked past and – as soon as they established that the workers were volunteers, not an inmate work crew – asked how they could help. "Something about men in uniform, I guess," Smith said modestly.

charles smith

The cavalry, both of whom were named Dan, picked up trash bags as they filled up:


Darin Hoff and his son Toki:

toki hoff

Darin described this decapitated bird as "kind of creepy." I think he said it was plastic. I didn’t inquire further.


Karlee Hoff:

karlee hoff

Megumi Hoff:

megumi hoff

Annie Kemp, whose favorite find of the morning was a pair of empty bullet casings, had this expression on her face in every picture I took. Here, she and Mike Vander Veen (off camera) show off the potatoes they found in one patch of grass.


Three hours later, Rep. Smith looked over the morning’s haul: 48 bags of trash and one rolling mattress frame.

Also in the haul: a set of disturbingly large bones.

"Their preference was pig," Smith said. "Second choice, cow. Third choice, dog. Fourth choice, neighbor."

In any case, it was no longer scattered along the high-traffic sidewalks of East Burnside:

the haul

Which clearly made event organizer Kim Breckel very happy.

kim breckel

Breckel, a retired DMV employee who has been with MAXaction since the start, attends Lifegate Church and also helps organize tables at nearby MAX stops on Friday and Saturday nights.

As the event wrapped up, Breckel talked about how all residents, whether or not they ride, benefit from a MAX line that’s safe, attractive and friendly.

"We need to be a better presence," Breckel said. "Just to make sure people know we’re out there, and that we care."

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