Nearly 200 University of St. Thomas alumni, students and friends will get up bright and early on Saturday, April 21, to give their elderly and disabled neighbors a hand. They’ve volunteered for the St. Thomas Alumni Association’s semi-annual Community Cleanup.

Volunteers will meet in St. Thomas’ parking lot at Summit and Cretin avenues at 9 a.m., rain or shine, to receive their directions for the day. They’ll work until noon or whenever the work is done. In just three hours, they’ll rake lawns, haul away the long winter’s eyesores and enjoy a visit with their happy clients.

The cleanup, held each spring and fall, began in 1989 with a handful of volunteers. Last fall, 200 volunteers brought their rakes and bags and polished off the yard work at the homes of 30 campus neighbors, most of whom have lived in their homes for more than 50 years.

The Alumni Association identifies neighbors who need yard cleanup assistance with help from the Merriam Park Block Nurse Program, area churches and other social service agencies. The St. Thomas Community Cleanup is one effort that helps elderly and disabled people to continue to live independently in their homes.

Community Cleanup has become something of a social event as well. Originally a service event that gathered a small but dedicated group of St. Thomas alumni, its volunteer list now includes university students, members of UST student clubs and organizations and students from area Catholic high schools. When the yard work is finished, neighbors and volunteers return to campus for lunch together.

“People start calling in January to see if we’re coming again,” said Liz Pojar, St. Thomas’ special events director who has both staffed and volunteered at the cleanup.

Last fall, UST alums and students from Totino-Grace High School helped Ceil Feist do just about anything she asked as she supervised them from her lawn chair of her Lincoln Avenue yard. And UST students and alumni filled more than 20 bags with leaves from her neighbor Liz Sweeney’s lawn. After student volunteers raked and cleared leaves from Betty Cummings’ Cretin Avenue yard, she returned the favor: she gave Beth Kloyda, assistant director of the St. Thomas Alumni Association, a little gift — a bag of errant baseballs retrieved from the Cummings’ yard across from the St. Thomas ball fields, for coach Dennis Denning. If Denning’s Tommies get any better, Community Cleanup volunteers may have to add “window repair” to their services.

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