When Winford Jenkins leaves his modest Hawthorne home each morning, he prays God will lead him as he walks around the city.
Jenkins, 57, then ties a garbage bag to his black rolling walker. His mission is simple: He wants to clean up the city, focusing on litter that others have ignored.
“I don’t know which way I’ll be headed,” Jenkins said.
Sometimes, he walks down side streets and through neighborhoods. Other days, he concentrates on wooded patches along U.S. Route 301 and State Road 20.
He walks with a slight limp because of a stroke he suffered two years ago. Jenkins has been unemployed since, and started walking after a doctor suggested adding exercise to his routine. As activity increased, he began to notice trash everywhere.
It pained him to see the city in which he grew up covered in waste.
So one day last summer, he started picking up the garbage. He hasn’t stopped since.
On a cloudy Friday morning, Jenkins got in his 1986 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, using hand signals as he turned corners because his blinkers don’t work. When he reached his destination – a quiet field behind a Chevron gas station on U.S. Route 301 – he unloaded his walker from the car and got to work.
Using a trash picker and wearing work gloves, he moved slowly throughout the weeds, grabbing cigarette packs, old receipts and fast-food cups. He filled up a trash bag in minutes.
“People will throw anything out,” he said.
Jenkins thinks most of the trash comes from locals because it’s often in places out-of-towners wouldn’t visit. He said he’s seen “almost everything” in the six months he’s been picking up trash, from used diapers to discarded police tape.
“Never seen anything dead, though,” he said, laughing.
Because it’s expensive to buy garbage bags, he reuses each thin plastic bag four or five times.
Gina Hawkins, executive director of the nonprofit organization Keep Alachua County Beautiful, said residents like Jenkins encourage her.
“To me, the appearance of the community is a reflection on the state of affairs,” she said. “When someone takes it upon himself to make a difference, it gives you hope.”
The city of Hawthorne named him one of December’s citizens of the month. Vice Mayor Tommie Howard said Hawthorne will soon begin providing trash bags so Jenkins doesn’t have to worry about buying them himself.
“We don’t have a full-fledged work crew,” Howard said. “He’s just been a real contributor to the community as a whole.”
Howard said businesses in the area are appreciative because Jenkins has made their storefronts more presentable.
As Jenkins finished his cleanup for the morning, he gestured at the block he’d covered.
“It looks so much better,” he said.
He is staunch in his faith, repeating how grateful he is to God for the opportunity to pick up trash every day.
“I’d been trying to think of something that would be useful,” he said. “Hopefully, I’m making a difference.”