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Nonprofit Aims To Clean Up Pacific Northwest One Block At A Time

Community cleanup programs that clear trash from streets have become so ubiquitous in the United States that searching for them on Google will fetch more than 1.5 billion results. You’ll find these programs across the country, sponsored by government agencies, nonprofits, civic groups, and neighborhood associations. One such program in the Pacific Northwest, called AdoptOneBlock, has already spread to thousands of individual blocks and continues to grow.

AdoptOneBlock is a Portland, Oregon-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps residents clean up their streets how and when they want by delivering supplies and resources free of charge. The organization currently operates in Oregon and neighboring Washington.

As of late 2023, it had nearly 8,000 “block ambassadors” and had “claimed” about 9,550 blocks for cleanup and restoration.

Photo Courtesy Adopt One Block 

Such programs are in high demand because of the amount of litter that still finds its way into residential and commercial streets — despite the proliferation of anti-litter campaigns that date back decades. AdoptOneBlock was founded in 2020 by Portland native Frank Moscow to address the problem.

According to a profile on the organization’s website, Moscow retired from his career in the technology sector and launched AdoptOneBlock as a way to “give back” to the city and state. After moving back to Portland, he was “saddened by how dirty the city had become.” He dedicated himself to finding a unique and scalable approach that could easily and efficiently engage people to help clean communities up. 

Photo Courtesy Adopt One Block 

“What I realized is there are a lot of well-meaning organizations out there that are doing their absolute best, but it was necessary but insufficient for the task at hand,” Moscow told KATU in a January 2023 interview. “Portland was getting dirtier, not cleaner, and obviously, we needed a new and different solution to the problem.”

It helps that Moscow also sits on the Board of Advisors and Investment Committee of the Oregon Venture Fund, which, along with other investors, has invested more than $147 million in the area’s most promising growth companies. Those connections have proven useful in drumming up support for AdoptOneBlock.

Photo Courtesy Adopt One Block 

Among the people who have become block ambassadors is Sarah Yapp, who adopted her block in south Eugene, OR.

“When I was growing up, my dad actually made me walk up and down the street picking up trash,” Yapp said in a February 2023 interview with KLCC. “And this was the era of McDonald’s Styrofoam garbage, people just throwing it out their windows. So, I used to hate that. And then I grew up, and I realized, you know what? I don’t like trash on the street as an adult either.”

AdoptOneBlock tries to make it as easy as possible for people to participate in the program by giving them the tools they need to tidy up their neighborhoods.

“We send you free clean-up supplies,” Olivia Langley, vice president of operations, told KLCC. “That’s everything from a five-gallon handle bucket, a trash grabber, industrial trash bags, gloves.”

Photo Courtesy Adopt One Block 

One thing AdoptOneBlock leaders have found is that most people are receptive to the idea of cleaning up their streets if given the resources and help to do so.

“What we realized is if we let the people care for the block they love the most with supplies we provide them for free, you will get higher engagement from the community,” Moscow said to KATU. 

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