PHILADELPHIA — What he believes to be Philadelphia’s first 5K Earth Day Garbage Street came to Terrill Haigler during a morning of inspiration.
One day, Haigler, better known as “Ya Fav Trashman,” thought about how he could combine garbage collection, helping the homeless, and a little fitness. Coinciding with Earth Day weekend, the event is expected to bring volunteers from across the city to walk through Kensington, a Philly neighborhood plagued by drug and homelessness, and clean up while basking in the sun.
The idea came to fruition Saturday morning, when 200 volunteers picked up 8 tonnes of trash, collected 503 garbage bags and distributed 200 hot meals to the homeless in Kensington, laughing and smiling along the 3.2-mile route.
“One day it hit me,” says Haigler, a former sanitation worker turned community activist. “I’ve had 19 different jobs over the last 12 years of my life. So trying to combine all the things that I find good or that I find fun or that I find interesting.
“It all comes together in one community-progress gumbo case, I guess you could say.”
Starting at 8:30 a.m. with a warm-up session for volunteers to stretch as they walk and pick up trash, the event kicked off at East Lehigh and Kensington Avenues, Haigler said. Volunteers, wearing running shoes and brandishing scavengers and bags, walked, jogged, and jumped up and down the streets cleaning.
Information tables are set up along the route, providing educational materials for purposes such as voter registration and first-time home ownership, and a wide variety of swag for volunteers.
As part of the event, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has pledged to plant a tree in the Black or Brown community in Philadelphia over the next five years for every bag of garbage collected. Haigler is “very excited” to be able to inform the community that more than 500 trees will be planted.
It’s all part of Haigler’s drive to create long-term change in Philadelphia, tackling food insecurity, homelessness, and sanitation jobs.
“To me, impact means an extraordinary effect and not something that just exists in the ‘now.’ That’s the end result for me.”
The Saturday morning trip was the latest in Haigler’s constant push to raise awareness about what sanitation workers are doing to try to keep Philly’s streets clean and help his city in creative ways.
Haigler first rose to prominence at the height of the pandemic, when trash started piling up when sanitation workers were called sick from COVID-19. Haigler, then a sanitation worker working mostly in the Frankford area, understood the residents’ frustration and saw an opportunity to teach them about the job and all its pitfalls and rotten quirks.
Making Instagram with his now iconic nickname, Haigler became a sensation, posting videos and hosting live Instagram sessions where he answered citizens’ questions and entertained them with stories of some of the dirtiest pickups he’s encountered in his work.
Soon, Haigler went from spreading awareness to community activism, holding a food campaign for frontline workers working amid soaring COVID cases and raising $32,000 for PPE for his fellow sanitation workers. In February 2021, Haigler resigned from his job as a sanitation worker and dedicated himself full time to the betterment of society.
Saturday’s events are very close to Haigler’s heart, as one of his first routes as a sanitation worker was in Kensington. Many of the volunteers were moved by the opportunity to help clean up the neighborhood and have approached it to carry out similar activities every year.
“Hopefully it gets bigger and better and we won’t be doing it in the same place every year, but we can influence all of Philly,” Haigler said. “I definitely have support from Philadelphia to do this for next year’s Earth Day.”
At the online registration he had set up, Haigler had expressed his hopes for 2,000 attendees.
Asked if he was disappointed in failing to achieve that goal, his answer was predictable.
“Not at all, I’m always swinging on the fence lol,” she texted. “I got 10 percent of my target next year, I’ll hit 40%. Any Impact is still Impact.”