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Volunteers to honor MLK Day with Capewide beach cleanup

Update: The event has been rescheduled to Saturday, January 22nd, 2022. There is also a backup plan for Sunday, January 23rd in the event that the forecast looks bad for the 22nd.

On Monday, AmeriCorps Cape Cod volunteers will meet in person for the first time in two years to collect trash and debris on beaches stretching from Sandwich to Provincetown.

In 1994, Congress designated AmeriCorps to lead an annual national day of service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Since then, AmeriCorps Cape Cod has hosted community service projects on MLK Day that address the environment, food security, and homelessness.

Morning Edition's Patrick Flanary spoke with Phoebe Plank, program specialist for AmeriCorps Cape Cod, about the return to in-person projects during the pandemic.

Patrick Flanary: Martin Luther King Day is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service. Tell us about that and this annual AmeriCorps tradition.

Phoebe Plank: We have been hosting events for the past 20-plus years. With the onset of COVID we had to kind of shift our efforts last year because everything was fully remote. But our goal this year was to get back to doing an in-person event that coincided with being safe in regard to COVID. And because our program focuses on environmental efforts and boots-on-the-ground service, we thought, what better way to get people involved in-person and outdoors than on the shorelines of the Cape?

PF: Is it tough to get the community out during the pandemic?

PP: I have been surprised by the number of registrants. I think people are excited about the possibility of doing something in-person with other people again. We have over 95 people registered already. The winter can be cold and a bit quiet on the Cape, but we're trying to breathe some life into the community where we can, and we think this event is a great way to do that.

PF: Where does all this waste go? Is there a big dumpster that gets hauled off to a transfer station?

PP: We've communicated with Nauset Disposal in the Eastham and Orleans area. They said, "Anything you're able to fit in there we'll take off your hands." And through our partner the Center for Coastal Studies, we're going to be donating what we collect to their marine debris education program.

PF: How do you choose which beaches to focus on? Are some less clean than others?

PP: We had committee members divide and conquer and do a bit of a scouting session, not only to get a sense of the amount of debris but also to look at logistics, like enough parking to host an event of the size that we're trying to pull off. We think social distancing is going to be pretty doable, and we're encouraging mask-wearing even though it is an outdoor event.

Our last in-person event was back in January 2020, right before the onset of COVID. Last year we were remote in terms of celebrating MLK Day. But we're really trying to turn it around and get people back together.

Register here to participate:

  • Cold Storage Beach, Dennis
  • Coast Guard Beach, Eastham
  • Nauset Beach, Orleans
  • Herring Cove Beach, Provincetown
  • Race Point Beach, Provincetown
  • Springhill Beach, Sandwich
  • Breakwater Beach, Wellfleet
  • Duck Harbor Beach, Wellfleet
Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.