Wash the steps. Sweep the walk. Bag the trash.

That's how every Saturday began when Michael Nutter was growing up at 55th and Larchwood in West Philadelphia.

Now, as mayor of the city often slammed as "Filthydelphia," Nutter wants to tap the old-school ethic for what he calls the largest one-day cleanup in the city's history.

"Far too many areas of the city are filthy, and it's disgusting and it's a disgrace," Nutter said.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, volunteer crews using donated equipment will scour the city in an effort to remedy that.

They'll hit the wrapper-strewn ball fields of West Philadelphia, the underpasses glittering with broken glass in Kensington. They'll charge into the trash-choked brown fields of North Philadelphia and gather wind-blown garbage in Southwest Philadelphia.

From Fairmount to Fishtown, Queen Village to Queen Lane, they'll push brooms and haul trash.

And there's a lot to haul.

A quick tour last week found a man in front of a North Philadelphia tavern sweeping up bottle caps - and a hypodermic needle - in the gutter outside the bar; a vacant lot in Kensington lined with pieces of drywall and other home-renovation debris; barbed-wire fences throughout the city strewn with wind-blown plastic bags like semaphore flags signaling distress.

Is a one-day effort possibly enough to address all this?

Of course not, said Nutter, who is urging residents to think of the massive spring cleanup as just the start of an ongoing anti-litter campaign he calls "Love Where You Live."

"Only five things come from the sky: rain, snow, sleet, hail, and blessings from the Lord - not potato chip bags and bottles," Nutter said yesterday.

"Throwing that bag down on the street, throwing stuff out of a car window, letting things blow around: That's not the standard we are going to live by."

As a signature event, Saturday's kickoff will be large-scale: 10,000 registered volunteers, 5,000 city blocks, 50 commercial corridors, 10 neighborhood recreation centers, 10 areas of Fairmount Park, with the goal of removing more than one million pounds of trash.

Supplies donated by local businesses include 12,000 brooms; 75,000 pairs of gloves (with the surplus to be used later this year); scads of biodegradable paper bags; and 10 first-aid kits.

Volunteers will get red wristbands that allow them to ride free on SEPTA after the cleanup until 6 p.m. Saturday. The Eagles will honor the volunteers with a barbecue at Lincoln Financial Field from 2 to 5 p.m.

Carlton Williams, deputy commissioner of the Streets Department, which will run extra trucks for the cleanup, said, "Little litterers become big litterers unless we do something about it," so community education is a big part of the campaign.

Efforts to spruce up Philadelphia go back more than two decades, to the administration of Mayor Bill Green, who in 1984 marshaled scores of volunteers - and 700 U.S. sailors in uniform - for a massive sweep down Broad Street from City Hall to the Navy Yard.

And when Ed Rendell was elected mayor, one of his first acts was to get down on his hands and knees and scrub City Hall.

"We can have the best-managed sanitation department in the world," W. Wilson Goode Sr., Green's managing director and future successor as mayor, said in 1981. "But if people keep behaving like pigs, there's no way we can clean up after 1.7 million of them."

While the city's population has declined by several hundred thousand since then, the challenge to keep up with litter has intensified because of more plastic bags and other non-biodegradables in the trash stream.

Visits to parts of the city hard hit by midnight dumpers and other sources of litter revealed exasperation with the problem and enthusiasm for Saturday's cleanup.

On a street named Hope - in a neighborhood scratching to find some - 60-year-old Eddie Campbell waded into a trash-strewn vacant lot opposite his whitewashed-stucco house.

He wrestled a ratty, broken-backed sofa to the curb.

He reached into a clump of knee-high weeds and pulled out a tangle of jagged window frames - left behind after they were stripped of aluminum by vagrant scrap-metal scavengers.

Hours later in this part of North Philadelphia that echoes with the screech of the Market-Frankford El, three city workers on a sanitation truck went out of their way to do more than their city jobs required.

Having completed their assigned pickups, they drove to the Hope Street eyesore, lifted the junk corralled by Campbell, and threw it into their truck's sour-smelling hopper.

"We still got room. We see piles. We might as well make ourselves useful," said lanky Robert Wilmer, dressed in a blue Sanitation Department jumpsuit and black do-rag. ". . . If we don't come and get this up, every week it's going to get bigger."

Campbell and his wife, Elizabeth, expect to be out for the Saturday cleanup, as much for their son Brandon, 8, and daughter Brianna, 4, as for themselves.

"This is a new generation," said Elizabeth Campbell. "Let's make a difference" for them.

A few blocks away, Marge Suarez watched over her neighborhood like a hawk.

"My father bought this house when I was 4. My best memories are from here," said Suarez, 61, of the 1500 block of Philip Street, near the St. Michael's parish school she attended as a child.

As a vice president of the Kensington South Neighborhood Advisory Council, Suarez is a petite tough cookie who walks the neighborhood in a fringed black leather jacket. Civic activism comes naturally to her, she said, because it just makes sense.

"If you don't help out where you live," she said, "who will?"

Passing by Moffet School while its playground echoes with students' chatter, Suarez pointed out a nearby property that teems with old car parts, plastic motor-oil containers, fast-food wrappers, and a jungle of weeds.

Then she looked back over her shoulder at the children playing after-school sports.

"They've got to come out here and see this trash?" she says, pursing her lips and shaking her head.

While she supports the coming cleanup, she said, what happens the next day, the day after that, and the day after that is even more critical.

"People come out and make a nice show," Suarez said. "But it all falls apart if they don't do the follow-ups."

Join the Cleanup

For information about how to participate in Philadelphia's "Love Where You Live" cleanup, go to www.phillycleanup.com or call 215-683-2532. EndText

Contact staff writer Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or mmatza@phillynews.com