Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Street Stewards.

Every time Megan O’Malley picks up a piece of trash, she feels a sense of pride.

In January, the North Side resident launched Pittsburgh Street Stewards (PSS), a volunteer organization dedicated to keeping the city clean, and like-minded residents quickly rallied to the cause.

The project currently has 76 stewards, including individuals, families and businesses, tidying up designated areas in 28 of Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods, along with a few suburbs such as Bellevue and Avalon.

Adopted areas are highlighted on maps posted to the group’s Instagram and Facebook pages. People interested in lending a hand can email O’Malley stating what street or block they’d like to take. She recommends that volunteers pick up litter once a week and share photos to motivate others to join the cause.

During one excursion, O’Malley filled five large bags with discarded bottles, cans and other assorted junk she found on hillsides and under stairways. She even discovered an old Nintendo Game Boy that still worked.

On April 24 from 10 a.m. to noon, Pittsburgh Street Stewards and the City of Pittsburgh are co-hosting Earth Day cleanup events at Allegheny Commons Park and Highland Park. Supplies, personal protective equipment, refreshments and children’s games will be provided. To reserve your spot, contact Pittsburgh Street Stewards through social media or email.

In addition to beautifying the region and keeping litter out of local waterways, volunteer stewards help build a sense of community and teach children the importance of caring for the environment.

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Street Stewards.

“I think that because it is so casual, it makes it less intimidating to join and more fun,” says O’Malley, a registered nurse who spent the last year working in Covid ICUs. “Also, volunteers recognize their neighborhood more as they develop even more pride for their block. We stress the importance of ‘love where you live’ and making it the best place possible.”

As a traveling nurse, O’Malley has lived in many different places, and litter patrol has always been part of her routine. While living in San Diego, she joined the Pacific Beach Street Stewards and collected trash on her block while enjoying the sunshine. When she moved back to western PA, O’Malley decided to start her own cleanup crew in Deutschtown.

South Side Flats resident Adrian Kasicky started volunteering with Pittsburgh Street Stewards a month ago. He covers the 2300 block of Sarah Street every Tuesday morning before he heads to work or while taking his dog on an afternoon walk.

“Honestly, it’s such an easy task and only takes a short amount of time. I figured I didn’t have an excuse not to do it,” he says. “Plus with some help from Allegheny CleanWays, who provided me with a free litter cleanup kit, it made it even that much easier and safer.”

Tired of seeing accumulated trash on the city steps across from her Mt. Washington home, Katy Kendeall began pitching in. Once the stairs were clear, she kept going further into her neighborhood. She teamed up with a friend, and now the area is picturesque. And it pays off: last week she found $10.

O’Malley is glad people are picking up on her idea, but she also encourages budding environmentalists to abide by safety rules. Stewards should walk on the left side of the street to see oncoming traffic, wear brightly colored attire, avoid handling hazardous materials, recycle when possible, stay hydrated and make sure not to trespass on private property.

In the near future, O’Malley hopes to have every Pittsburgh block adopted by a volunteer and maintained on a regular basis. She’d also like to team up with the city to organize more public events in local parks to beautify recreation areas and give stewards a chance to meet each other in person.

“I really do believe that when an area is cleaned up, it looks more welcoming,” she says, “and that attracts good behavior, more positivity, safety and fun to the community.”

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.