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The Bucket-Brigade Church Cleanout: Food Shelf and Thrift Store Have to Trash Everything

A line of people standing inside church passing a box.
A bucket-brigade of sorts made up of dozens of volunteers helped cleanout the Trinity Church basement in Montpelier last Sunday, where both the local Food Shelf and a thrift store were located. Every item in the basement had to be landfilled because of contamination from the flood last week. Photo by John Lazenby.
When the call went out for help to clean the mud and silt out of the Just Basics food pantry and the thrift shop in the Montpelier Trinity United Methodist Church’s basement over the weekend, Vermonters were there in droves for the hot and dirty work.

The volunteers at the Main Street church came in all genders, ages, shapes and sizes, from diminutive octogenarians to hale young men. They showed up by the dozen to lend a hand, and that was just a microcosm of what’s been happening throughout the city, and the state, volunteers showing up from the area, and from around northern Vermont.

Volunteers lined up bucket-brigade style from the church basement, up the stairs, around the corner on paper-lined floors, out the front door, down the steps, and to the curb. Muddy bins, buckets and baskets of dirty, drenched clothing, entire racks of earrings, piles of dishes, every scrap of inventory, shelving, tables, and more made their way to the curb where the strongest of the volunteers heave-hoed them into a massive pile. Everything had to go.

Throughout the day, dozens of people showed up for the hard, heavy, wet and dirty work of handing those bins from one person to another down the line, non-stop, for hours. People sweated through the rain, through their masks — donned because of high-levels of contamination in the dust and debris — and through the physical strain of hefting bin after bin after bin of destroyed items that could no longer be used because of the heavy metal and contaminates brought in with the flood waters. They were warned by organizers to take breaks, drink water, and stop working if they started to feel nauseous. 

As the trash pile mounted (with electronics, paint and hazardous materials separated into smaller, nearby piles) it started to look like every other business and residence on Main Street. In the days of recovery after the biggest flood Montpelier has seen in 100 years, its downtown has transformed into mud-smeared people exhausted from loss and physical exertion, walking among ever-higher piles of trash out on the curb, awaiting pick up (slated to happen by the State of Vermont this week). 

All photos here are taken by John Lazenby.

Matthew Reed, assistant chief of the South Hero Volunteer Fire Department, helps muscle mud-covered debris out of the back door of Trinity United Methodist Church on Sunday.
Two volunteers dump a bin full of ruined clothes from the Trinity Church thrift store. Volunteers stood in line passing bins from one to the other for hours on Sunday morning, July 16, getting every item in the basement out on the curb to be landfilled.

Debris has piled high in the streets of Montpelier as damaged, destroyed and flooded materials make their way to the curb. The City of Montpelier said today that the materials will get hauled away this week.

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