'Grime Fighters' make clean sweep of Boston streets

Boston is not a very clean city - yet. Street cleaning has been spotty. The public works commissioner, blaming budget cuts, has said he's ashamed at the level of city cleanup service.

''It got to the point,'' recalls Mary McGee, glancing occasionally at her purple-clad daughter racing about the Paul Revere Mall with a miniature broom, ''where I couldn't let her go out on the streets.''

Four years ago, Mrs. McGee and other concerned members of the North End Local Awareness Committee got so fed up with trash-littered streets that they decided to do something about it. Every year since, the group has sponsored volunteer cleanup drives in the neighborhood.

This summer the committee got a little help - from a energetic young man named Steve Biondolillo.

Mr. Biondolillo, paid from a grant by the city-run Boston Partners in Urban Recreation program, decided it was time to spruce up not only the North End, but also the image of the people who were going to keep it clean.

His plan: the Grime Fighter.

He raised roughly $25,000 worth of donations - some cash, but mostly donated products (31 push brooms, 15 shovels, and other grime-fighting implements) and services (the Coast Guard, for example, donated a street-sweeping machine and an operator for two hours).

He also got T-shirts with a red ''Grime Fighter'' logo to encourage his team of eight young garbage grabbers who, he admits, often felt they had been stuck with a low-prestige job.

During the summer these teen-age youths, paid from a federal grant administered by the Action for Boston Community Development, filled up 288 bags, 14 barrels, and 10 boxes with North End trash.

Eight days ago, the program ended. But Biondolillo's not resting on his trash bags.

He is trying to form a group that will organize and support the 50-odd neighborhood cleanup programs in the city. The plan is to galvanize volunteer adult ''grime fighters,'' he says, and raise money to pay a minimum wage to youths.

On Saturday, about 75 people, including Mrs. McGee, her daughter, and husband , showed up for Biondolillo's organizational meeting and cleanup blitz of the Paul Revere Mall in the North End.

''It's a matter of pride,'' Mrs. McGee says, clutching a flattened box she had picked up.

Biondolillo will have his work cut out for him, though.

''A lot of people here are discouraged,'' says Mrs. McGee. They see it as a losing battle because the area attracts many tourists, and therefore a lot of trash. In addition, a growing share of neighborhood housing is owned by absentee landlords, who tend to have little or no interest in keeping the streets clean.

Still, Biondolillo retains his enthusiasm. ''I would love to go national on this,'' he says. ''Millions of people want to be aggressively out there and do something for their community.''

Midgaard Inc., an audio-visual production company, has produced at its own expense a documentary slide show on the North End Grime Fighters program, a kind of how-to manual on establishing a local cleanup program. The program is scheduled to be shown publicly Sept. 28.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.