Two masked participants get ready to clean up the city of Belfast during the third annual "Keeping Belfast Maine Beautiful" event. Credit: John Gibbs | Keeping Belfast Maine Beautiful

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BELFAST, Maine — All over Maine, beloved festivals and other community events have been canceled because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

But one thing — as unglamorous as it is necessary — is still going on. The third annual “Keeping Belfast Maine Beautiful” cleanup event is happening over five days this week, with its army of brightly-colored T-shirt clad citizens once again scouring the city’s roadsides and trails for trash.

That’s because one thing the pandemic hasn’t canceled is littering.

“It’s awful,” organizer Debbie Murphy said of the trash she’s seen around the city this spring. “It is so gross. What are people thinking?”

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She and other organizers have altered the event this year to make it safer. In the past, the cleanup has taken place in one day, with the work followed by a celebratory barbecue at the Front Street Pub. Because of the pandemic, the event is taking place over five days, not just one, and the barbecue has been tentatively rescheduled to sometime in the late summer or fall.

“Families can go out, get some exercise and do some good,” John Gibbs, who started the event, said.

People who want to participate should go to the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce between 9 and 11 a.m. from Wednesday until Saturday. There, they can sign up, get a T-shirt, rubber gloves, trash bags, little flags to mark “sharps,” or needles, and a street assignment. This year, about 30 teams have signed up, but individual litter picker-uppers are still welcome to join in. There’s also a new addition to the equipment — a backpack vacuum to pick up cigarette butts, which was donated to the group by Hammond Lumber and the Belfast Rotary Club, among other donors.

Participation has been high for the event in past years, with lots of local school children taking part. Murphy is hoping that kids will volunteer to clean up this year, even though school is not physically in session.

“We want the kids involved,” she said. “If they get disgusted by it, they won’t be part of the future problem.”

The first year, the organization gave T-shirts away to 500 people, who collected 4.27 tons of trash. Last year, around 600 people helped out, and they found even more trash — a total of 4.57 tons. He is expecting fewer people to take part this year, but it’s hard to know.

“Right now, everything’s been positive. People are even coming from out of town, just wanting to help clean up Belfast,” he said.

He’s not surprised. In this polarized age, the list of things people can fight over seems almost endless. But everyone seems to be able to agree that cleaning up litter is a good thing to do.

“It just brings the community together with no political motivation. It’s a common goal,” he said.

Watch: What will it take for COVID-19 to go away?

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