April 30, 2012
Students, community members and business owners flooded Westwood Village and the North Village Saturday with a common goal: to spruce up the neighborhood.
The third annual Westwood Organized MEGA Project brought more than 700 volunteers out into the streets to do various projects aimed at cleaning up the streets, including picking up trash, putting decomposed granite into tree wells and painting trash cans, curbs and bike poles.
The event, which was the largest to date, was inspired by UCLA Volunteer Day in 2009, said Steve Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council. It was organized by the Westwood Community Council, the UCLA Volunteer Center and the Westwood Neighborhood Council.
Among the volunteers was Councilmember Paul Koretz, who had also attended the previous year. The retail store Target, which is moving into the Village this summer, sent 125 volunteers.
Local eateries donated breakfast and lunch for the volunteers, and donors gave about $20,000 in cash to the program, Sann said.
For the first time, the event extended to the North Village. The change was prompted by feedback from students who requested help there, Sann said.
Because the North Village is the most densely populated area of Westwood, trash and bulky furniture often make their way onto the street, he said.
Projects in the North Village included repainting curbs and lampposts. Hoping to head off the problem of unattended trash and furniture, volunteers hung up signs that read, “This is our UCLA neighborhood, please help us keep it clean.” and “Bulky items? Free pick up (800)-773-CITY.”
The signs were put up in areas with a high concentration of traffic.
In Westwood Village, one project involved cleaning out the vacant lot on the corner of Gayley and Le Conte avenues, said Nick Dietz, student co-chair for WOMP and a fourth-year psychobiology student.
Lynn Shaw, a volunteer from Target who helped clear weeds from the lot, said she volunteered because she wanted to help and be a part of the community. Her mother-in-law lives in Westwood, she said.
She often drives by the overgrown lot when visiting family and thought that the space could be put to better use.
“I hope we can see something grow out of this,” Shaw said.
People Assisting the Homeless, an organization dedicated to helping homeless populations in Los Angeles, was also at the event.
Volunteers helped assemble 84 hygiene kits – which included toothbrushes, soap, shampoo and razors – that the organization plans to distribute to homeless residents in the Village.
Justin Olesen, a third-year political science student who said he regularly participates in volunteer work, said making the kits was different from other work he has done in the past.
“There’s so many important things that happen, behind the scenes, that a lot of people don’t know about,” he said.
Organizers hope the annual event will excite students enough to encourage them to volunteer on a more long-term basis, said David Tracy, student co-chair of WOMP and a fourth year business economics and architecture student.
“We want to get people involved throughout the year,” he said. “That’s what really makes a difference, I think.”