SENECA — Just ahead in the distance, a raccoon lie dead on the roadside.
Students from Seneca Township High School, who were cleaning trash from the ditches during the school’s 13th annual “30 MPH: Trash Dynasty” event Friday, spotted the roadkill.
“I’m going to pick it up,” Freshman Scott Valentine joked.
“No animals!” Math teacher Jenna Maierhofer called after the students.
“That’s coyote bait,” Valentine said when the group got closer.
Thankfully, they left the raccoon alone.
But anything that wasn’t once alive, the students picked up from the ditch and deposited into one of two bags — one for general garbage, and one for aluminum cans, which will be returned for money that will go toward Relay for Life.
Cleaning up the community. Raising money.
It’s a good cause all around, and one the students take on enthusiastically.
“I love doing it,” said Senior Molly Novotny, president of the Seneca High School FFA, which led the event. “It’s a good use of the time before spring break because it gets everybody out and active and working for a good cause.”
“There’s a lot of trash that nobody would clean up otherwise,” added Event Chairman Chance Gonnam, a junior.
“This event does a lot to help keep the community clean,” Gonnam said.
According to Jeff Maierhofer, advisor to the Seneca FFA, that’s due in large part to the dedication of the some-500 student volunteers.
“It feeds on itself,” Maierhofer said. “These kids are always looking for ways to help the community. [The volunteers] really made it a commitment.”
It’s a commitment, Maierhofer said, that lasts long after graduation.
“Not a day goes by where I don’t see a 30 MPH shirt from one of the thirteen years we’ve been doing it,” he said.
That first year, the volunteers collected approximately 40 yards of garbage in the 30 miles of road they covered. This year, they covered 32 miles.
What they collect will be hauled away by JB Disposal of Verona.
Support came from Exelon and CF Industries for Seneca, as well as the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois National Guard.
“It truly made it a community event,” Maierhofer said of the support.
“It makes us feel like everyone is behind us with what we’re doing,” added Novotny.
Out on Grand Ridge Road, Freshman Tristan Stach held open a big, black garbage bag as his group gradually filled it with litter. It was sunny, but unseasonably cold, some of the cans and bottles and food wrappers frozen to the ground.
“If you see the ditches, they’re so dirty,” he said. “I like the environment, so it’s good to help.
“It’s been pretty fun.”