More than 20 volunteers lined Spokane’s Wall Street in the heart of downtown on Friday morning with paint rollers in hand and a shared love for the Lilac City.
“This turnout shows the resiliency of people to come out and be a part of a team,” said city administrator Johnnie Perkins. “I think everybody is just wanting to be a part of a community, and this is community spirit, in the greatest sense.”
The graffiti busters are a new volunteer-based group that traces its beginnings to Mayor Nadine Woodward’s desire to clear buildings of unnecessary, and sometimes offensive, tags.
“In rain or shine, we’ll be here,” said Luis Garcia, an enforcement supervisor for the city of Spokane.
The group split up, with one remaining on Wall and the other heading to tackle the underpass on Inland Empire Way at Seventh Avenue.
The Wall Street group included Peer Spokane volunteer coodinator James Tillett.
Peer Spokane is a nonprofit organization that helps people in recovery from long-term addiction, drug addiction and mental health crises.
“It’s a problem, a lot of the issues downtown, especially working downtown. Some individuals aren’t respectful of Spokane, so anything we can do to help out is important,” Tillett said.
Tillett has lived in Spokane for his entire life and appreciates the conscious effort of individual volunteers and other nonprofits in Spokane. Both Peer Spokane and downtown Spokane’s Clean Team turned out to support the graffiti busters.
Spokane’s Clean Team dedicates six days a week to taking care of the streets of Spokane.
“I couldn’t ask for a better team of people to keep the city going, keep it vibrant. You really do realize how much community we have in Spokane when we all come together,” said Nina Volgmann, a Spokane Clean Team member.
Mark Gelhaus, the clean and safe operation director of Downtown Spokane, said the graffiti project was a learning experience.
“I’ve lived here for almost 40 years, and I’m finding out things I’ve never known about my city. We all have the same goals, we always celebrate together,” Gelhaus said.
The group stationed on Wall efficiently covered over two blocks worth of graffiti in less than an hour.
On the other side of downtown Spokane, the group stationed at Inland Empire Way were tasked with covering infamous tags alongside Spokane’s underpasses heading north.
In this group stood Tamara Larson, a Spokane resident for 10 years. Larson recently felt a need to give back to her community and is volunteering with various organizations.
“I left Washington, went around the world for 15 years, and came back. I’m so proud of who the core people are in Washington. I love our state,” Larson said.
Buddy Meola also finds it fulfilling to give back to a city that he and his wife have returned to each summer for seven years.
“I’ve been doing this with the city for three years,” Meola said. “It’s one of those things, you never get ahead of it. There’s just too much!”
Meola said he had been at the underpass already this summer.
“We had a big crew out here last month, all of the pillars out here, all of that, they’ve already graffitied it again,” he said.
While volunteers spend hours covering tags, it takes an individual just seconds to undo their efforts. Meola, however, is motivated to continue volunteering.
“I got time, this gives me an opportunity to pay back to my community,” he said.
In 40 minutes alone, the group stationed at Inland Empire Way ran through over five gallons of paint.
The graffiti busters plan on continuing their painting parties every other Friday for at least the rest of the summer.
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