How to organize a community cleanup

Advice from “Heroes of Elephant Hill” on combating unsightly trash


Volunteers of Heroes of Elephant Hill clean up a hiking trail in El Sereno. (Cornell Chuaseco/UT)

Brian Lai, Community News Reporter

Elephant Hill is one of the crown jewels of the neighborhood, with its rolling hills and vistas of the Downtown  skyline and the San Gabriel Mountains.

Before: Trash litters the area under a big tree. Photo courtesy of Christian Aeschliman.
After: The area is cleaned up in November. Photo courtesy of Christian Aeschliman.

But not everything is scenic about Elephant Hill. Some have turned this open space into a dumping ground. Bottles, cans, carpeting, cardboard, containers, broken toys, furniture, machinery, and even a boat.

Frustrated by all the trash, residents formed “Heroes of Elephant Hill” to clean up the 100-acre park. The group’s origin and approach may inspire other residents to combat trash in their own neighborhoods.

After: Trash is out of the boat, leaving just the boat to haul away.  Photo courtesy of Christian Aeschliman
Before: A boat filled with garbage is left on the hill. Photo courtesy of Christian Aeschliman.

“It depressed me that no one was cleaning it up, that nobody cared…It made me feel as if nobody gave a damn,” said El Sereno resident Christian Aeschliman, 44. “Finally, I just said, ‘Screw it man.’

I’ve been meaning to do this for years.”

El Sereno residents said they have been told the city’s Department of Sanitation does not go up the hill to collect trash because its trucks can’t access it. Department officials could not be reached despite a phone call and emails.


A pile of trash awaits pick up after a Heroes of Elephant Hill cleanup. Christian Aeschliman and William Gonzalez pose in the photo. Photo courtesy of Christian Aeschliman.

In an effort to restore the hill back to its original splendor, Aeschliman started a community clean-up campaign on Instagram and Facebook. He invited his friends and family to join him in cleaning up trash off Elephant Hill, posting their results to the internet for the world to see. In November, they managed to pick up about 7,000 pounds of trash, according to the group’s Facebook page. On Feb. 13, they picked up thousands more. 

“If I do it on my own, it makes me feel a little better, but you really have to multiply your influence to really make an impact,” Aeschliman said in an interview. “After we cleaned up our first hillside that was completely filled with trash, it felt so good.

Aeschliman provided tips for others looking to organize a clean up:

Choose clean up dates and times that work for most people like weekends.

Leverage social media. Reach residents of varying ages and on various social media networks such as Facebook and Instagram.

Ask the city and local elected officials for support or see if they know of people who want to pitch in. The Los Angeles Office of Community Beautification offers tools and supplies for people organizing a clean up event.

Don’t sweat it if no one seems to join the first event or two. Talking about what cleaning up was like on social media and posting photos can help rally a bigger crowd for the next event.

Show volunteers the difference they made. See how many bags or pounds of trash are collected. Post before and after pictures. The transformation can motivate people to volunteer again and to recruit others to join the cause.

Use the MyLA311 app to notify the city of trash bags that must be collected after the clean up. This app can also be used to report illegal dumping, waste, or trash pile ups.

For those who are looking to pitch in to a clean up instead of organizing one, the city’s community beautification office is always looking for volunteers.

This story was cross-published in the Eastsider LA.

Community News produces stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to [email protected]