A couple of weeks ago, an acquaintance reached out to tell me that she was aware of a “special someone” who was walking the streets of Buffalo, daily during the pandemic, while cleaning the city’s sidewalks. She mentioned that the woman’s name was Jerry Clauss, and that she was in her 90’s.
Not long after receiving the tip, I came across Jerry as she was picking up litter at the corner of Elmwood and Lexington. I rolled up on my bike and we began chatting. After a short discussion, we decided that it would be best to set a date, to sit down, to talk trash. “I’ve got a message that I want to get out there,” she told me.
Not long after we bumped into each other, I had the opportunity to talk further to Jerry about her passion for Buffalo – a clean Buffalo.
“As a kid, we would walk the beach with my mother,” she told me. “Back then, there was no plastic, so we picked up orange peels and paper Lily cups. We always walked, and we always picked up. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve lived to be 93. I’m in pretty good shape because I walk 3 to 4 miles a day. By picking up the litter, I feel that it’s sort of payback for my good health.”
Jerry told me that where her granddaughter lives in Nantucket, the residents take great pride in keeping their community clean. “She heard that I was picking up a lot of litter in Buffalo, so she sent me a grabber and a cart with a pail,” said Jerry [laughing]. “It’s so much easier to pick up the litter along my different routes – I fill up three bags every day. The other day I walked past a restaurant and everyone on the patio stood up and clapped. Another day, a woman invited me in to her home for tea – it was delightful.”
The important message that Jerry asked me to send is, “People tend to litter in places where there is already litter, so it’s important to pick it up. Also, if people see you out there picking up, they might think twice about littering. It’s been a real eye-opener for me. I’ve met some great people, who appreciate what I’m doing.”
As for the types of litter that Jerry comes across, she mentioned that she’s surprised at how many people are still smoking. She sees a lot of cigarette butts and wrappers (especially Newports). She also comes across a lot of masks, mini liquor bottles, and lottery tickets.
“Some of the store owners are good about picking up the litter,” mentioned Jerry. “Others aren’t. Elmwood, from Bryant to Utica, is always pretty bad. I passed by a bank recently and mentioned to the security guard that there was always litter out front, and now they are keeping it cleaner. Same with a gas station. There are some messy parking lots out there. When the store owners see that I’m cleaning their properties, they tend to keep things cleaner.”
I’m hoping that Jerry’s message gets out there, because there’s no reason to litter. It’s important to take pride in our communities – Jerry is leading by example. Unfortunately, there will always be people who chuck garbage out of their car windows (including cigarette butts), which is why we should all pitch in when we can. Maybe that means picking up litter when we see it, or joining a neighborhood litter mob… there are lots of ways that we can help out.
While Jerry is down on litterbugs, she’s upbeat about the city in general.
“When I was a kid, streets like Lancaster and Auburn weren’t that great,” she told me. “Now they are beautiful. Also Richmond and the Five Points neighborhood – I’m impressed with the way that people are fixing up and taking care of their houses these days. It wasn’t like that when I was young. Neighbors come out and thank me when they see me picking up the litter, which is how I’ve met so many appreciative and friendly people.”
Incredibly, Jerry walks rain or shine. She even walks to Wegmans to get her groceries, or to Delaware Park for inspiration. Speaking of inspiration, we should all be inspired by the selfless efforts of this wonderful woman, who has spent her entire life cleaning up the mess that others have carelessly left behind.
In a perfect world, Jerry would be able to simply enjoy her walks. But as she has clearly pointed out – since the days of orange peels and Lily cups – people have been littering, which is truly unfortunate. I suppose that the real lesson here is that each one of us has it in us to make a difference, if we take the time to care.