By Diana Moss
Have you ever felt dismay about the increasing quantity of litter along our freeways, including our own Saratoga Avenue exits? If so, you may take heart when you see white “Adopt-a-Highway” bags along the road! Several years ago, former upper school history teacher Carol Zink noticed the bags along our Saratoga Avenue exits, and decided to find out just who was responsible for taking on the eyesore of trashy freeways. She met former public school teacher Loui Tucker and her partner, Sabine Zappe, a math teacher at Del Mar High, who had adopted the section of highway between Meridian and Saratoga avenues 12 years ago.
Said Tucker, “I clearly remember becoming obsessed with an enormous piece of plastic (it could have wrapped a car!) on the off-ramp from 280 southbound up to San Jose City College. I snarled at it every time I drove past it. Finally, late one night, I stopped on the off-ramp, jumped out, grabbed the plastic, stuffed it in my car, got back in and drove off. I felt great! I contacted the Adopt-A-Highway program in Northern California and, after a couple of delays and false starts, got my first five-year permit. I suppose I could have asked for any section, but it made sense to clean an area that I would be able to easily keep an eye on during the month.”
Since then, the pair have faithfully coordinated groups of volunteers one Saturday each month, and this past July reached a milestone 5,000th bag of trash. After contacting the group, Zink put out an email to the Harker faculty, encouraging other members of our community to join the efforts, and since then several faculty members – including Diana Moss, Shaun Jashaun, Agnes Pommier and Brian Yager – students and parents have also volunteered. Kristin Carlson, administrative assistant to Jennifer Gargano, has even pitched in several times to buy lunch for the group, as Tucker and Zappe take the volunteers to lunch after each cleanup.
After each cleanup, Tucker sends amusing reports to participants chronicling the unusual discoveries along the freeways and on- and off-ramps. She said, “We have returned dozens of items to their owners. Many of them were obvious items like backpacks, wallets, purses, credit cards and drivers licenses. There was a chest X-ray that we dropped off at Good Samaritan Hospital. We returned an envelope full of very crisp new $5 bills, found along with a calendar that identified the owner, to the owner of a Chinese restaurant who had planned to give the $5 as Chinese New Year’s gifts to his employees. We found a wallet and called the woman who owned it. Initially she said to toss it because she’d replaced it – until we mentioned that tucked inside was a love note from someone named Dave. She gasped, said she’d be right over. She brought a bottle of wine.”
They are always looking for more volunteers to help, and high school students may fulfill community service hours for pitching in. Tucker explained, “You have to be 18 to work on the highway with us without permission of a parent. If you’re 16 or 17, you can work with parental permission. I try to give high school students who want to participate a relatively safe area to work – like Southwest Expressway – rather than the freeway shoulders. For those under 16, I have made bags available and sent them out to clean city streets or a neighborhood park instead.” If you would like to support this effort, you may contact Loui Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be included on the email list that she sends to each month.
We are grateful to Tucker and her group for helping pick up in our own neighborhood!