The rain on Sunday, Jan. 28, was not steady enough to deter more than 50 volunteers from making a return trip downtown to finish cleaning alleys they’d begun to clean up in December. Dressed in yellow t-shirts and green vests, the army of volunteers looked like a swarm of bees as they stomped through puddles on their way along Jersey Avenue. Each wore gloves, and carried brooms, shovels, and plastic bags.
The supplies were provided by the city’s Department of Public Works at the request of Councilman Daniel Rivera, who showed up later to lend a hand.
Jersey Avenue between the Sixth Street Embankment and Newark Avenue is criss-crossed by cobblestone alleys that many locals don’t notice, left over from the era of horse and carriage, though most carriage houses have been converted to garages or storage sheds.
Unlike the usually pristine downtown streets of this neighborhood, the alleys are frequently cluttered with odds and ends, remnants of old leaves, dead branches, and bits of rubbish blown in by the nearby harbor wind.
In December, volunteers from a new church located near Journal Square came downtown as part of a worldwide cleanup dedicated to promoting volunteerism as well as tribute to “Mother God.”
Think global, act local
It was part of a worldwide movement, entitled “Mother’s Street,” to clean up more than 6,000 regions in 175 countries. The cleanup is part of the Church of God’s national and international environmental protection efforts.
“When we were down here we noticed these alleys,” said Jaylene Caba, one the many volunteers who came out on this rainy Sunday in January. “So we came back to clear them.”
The project took about three to four hours, starting from Jersey Avenue between 3rd and 4th Street and concluding at Monmouth Street between 5th and 6th Street, and accumulated a mountain of clear bags that filled the entire public works truck that hauled them away.
While most of the volunteers came from the World Mission Society Church of God – a South Korean-based church – a contingent of South Korean exchange students also took part.
Although new to Jersey City, the church has been operating out of a location in Belleville since 2014, and was first established in Korea in 1948.
While some of the church members are Korean, many of the volunteers at the cleanup were from every race, ethnicity, and background, reflecting the diversity of the city they worked to make cleaner.
“This is a tribute of Mother God, one of the last mysteries of the Bible,” Caba said.
World Mission Society Church is a Christian sect that still believes in an older interpretation that promises the return of Christ. Prior to a major change of faith in the late 1800s, fundamentalists believed that it was the duty of Christians to build a world that would be worthy of the return of their savior. And part of this is to cleanse the planet and work towards building bonds with local communities.
But equally important is the effort by some of the university students to promote volunteerism, which studies indicate is in decline.
“When we were down here we noticed these alleys.” – Jaylene Caba
One study by Jason Cho, one of the students, said volunteerism among current college students worldwide has seen a significant decline from the previous generation. Whereas people ages 25 to 34 have about a 48 percent rate of volunteerism, students ages 18 to 24 show about a 5 percent rate of volunteerism.
Cho said efforts like this through the church help generate interest in volunteering, and it is his hope that these people by example can bring out more young people.
He said the need is very great, not just for community events like this, but in an age where natural disasters seem to strike more and more frequently, and resources for helping people are limited. Volunteers need to fill in the gap and provide help when financial aid may not be available.
For churchgoers like these, faith is important to motivate them.
“We want to share the warmth of Mother God’s love with the world,” Caba said.
Joshua Acevedo, a volunteer leader of the downtown cleanup, said such activities also help church members connect with the local community.
“The university students intend to present a plan for promoting volunteerism to the United Nations,” said Acevedo, who has been a member of the new church in Belleville for several years.
Born and raised in Jersey City, Acevedo said he became involved with the group through a workmate at Newport Mall. He said he became enamored with its faith and its concept of doing good deeds.
“This is really a fantastic thing,” said Councilman Rivera.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.