Twelve-year-old Zaviyon Davis stood in the midst of a trash-strewn lot in the Haddington neighborhood of West Philadelphia yesterday morning, struggling to hold a 32-gallon paper bag open against gusting winds.
Using a big, shiny shovel that seemed almost as tall as he was, Darronn Lipscomb, 9, scooped up some debris and struggled to drop it into the flapping sack. Discarded snack bags, blue and green strips of tissue paper, candy wrappers, crumpled cigarette packs, a dead bush, a pink ball, flattened plastic water bottles: all tumbled into the bag.
Similar scenes unfolded yesterday as volunteers of all ages swept, cleaned, and planted in the Nutter administration's second annual spring cleanup.
From Chinatown to Fairmount Park, from East Falls to North Philadelphia, and from the Northeast to South Philadelphia's F.D.R. Park, the volunteer army painted recreation centers, removed graffiti, and planted more than 100 trees.
Although exact totals will not be available until tomorrow, city officials said thousands of volunteers worked at nearly 100 sites chosen by neighborhood groups for this year's theme of "building sustainable communities."
"We went more for beautification projects, as opposed to last year, when we had a massive, massive citywide effort to just remove litter," said Carlton Williams, deputy streets commissioner.
He was not sure whether the statistics of this year's cleanup would match those of last year, when more than 15,000 volunteers collected 2.5 million pounds of trash from 3,500 city blocks.
In North Philadelphia, representatives from the Eagles went door to door near Eighth and Diamond Streets to distribute recycling containers. Across town, students planted 14 oak trees outside South Philadelphia High School.
In Haddington, an extensive neighborhood effort was coordinated by the ACHIEVEability Haddington-Cobbs Creek Neighborhood Advisory Committee. Robert Hall, founder and executive director of the mentoring program Amongst Men in Germantown, was among those who signed up.
He brought Zaviyon, Darronn, and three other boys from his program, and they spent the morning tackling the mounds of litter that obliterated the dirt and weeds on a fenced-in lot at Hobart and Race Streets.
"Come on, dig in," barked Hall. "We have 20 bags to fill. We're on number four."
"It's fun cleaning up the neighborhood," said Darronn, who recalled seeing the trash-covered lot while trick-or-treating in the fall.
Several blocks away, volunteers from Ready, Willing and Able were pushing wide brooms and scooping up grit and debris from under the Market-Frankford El at 60th and Market Streets.
Twenty crew members from the residential work-training program for homeless men had perfected their cleaning skills in their citywide assignments on weekdays. But yesterday, crew members and administrators alike were volunteering.
"Staff comes out to work with the men on this day every year," said Paulette Jackson, associate director of Ready, Willing and Able. "Really in essence, they're telling us what to do."
Mayor Nutter and his wife, Lisa, who pitched in at three sites across the city, arrived at Nichols Park near Race and 54th Streets in West Philadelphia shortly after 12:30 p.m.
Volunteers from the neighborhood and elsewhere already had removed trash and litter and rounded up discarded tires. Vincent Graveley, owner of a pressure-washing company in North Philadelphia, had arrived even earlier for a pro bono powerwashing of the slides, play equipment, and park benches.
Nutter, who was sporting a Villanova cap with a Final Four emblem, planted a golden-delicious apple tree in the hole that neighborhood resident Mike Hill had dug in advance.
"It's a community tree, a community space, a community park. Thank you for caring," Nutter told a neighborhood group of about 50 after he and Hill had tamped dirt down around the base of the sapling.
"The official cleanup is once a year, but what we really want is to clean up every day in the city," Nutter said.
"This is a wonderful thing, said Samuel Golatt, a father of four who had spent hours sprucing up the small park. "My kids play in this playground."
Hank Yeh, who works as a technology consultant in Center City, signed up to sweep and clean Nichols Park even though he lives a distance away in University City.
A native of Thailand, Yeh said he came to Philadelphia seven years ago to attend the University of Pennsylvania and stayed after graduating.
"I owe a lot to the city," Yeh, 25, said. "I think this is a great city, and I just want to help make it better."