Volunteers were out in full force on Saturday to show Hermiston a little love.
The annual I Love My City cleanup event spread community members out across the city to pick up trash, weed flower beds and paint over graffiti.
Across from the Hermiston Community Center, a group of families in red “I Love My City” T-shirts were planting flowers and trimming bushes Saturday morning.
Al Llanos was handing flowers out of the bed of pickup truck to his daughters, who passed them assembly line-style to his wife Ana.
“We’re out here to support our community,” he said.
The family moved to Hermiston from Idaho recently and decided to sign up when their church asked for volunteers.
“It’s a really nice way to teach our kids how to important it is to help,” he said.
Other groups spread out through downtown and along the railroad tracks, beautifying as they went, or washed cars for free.
The I Love My City movement began in 2016. Hermiston had been rocked by a murder-suicide and several other tragedies, and members of Hermiston Assembly of God church wanted to do something to help raise the community’s spirits. Their first day of service included creating a free car wash, handing out snacks at parks and going door to door with offers of service and prayers.
Since then the campaign has grown, encompassing several area churches and bringing out hundreds of volunteers each spring for their largest event of the year.
This year’s I Love My City cleanup was perfect timing for Riverfront Park, which was damaged by floodwaters after the Umatilla River overflowed its banks in April. Much of the heavy lifting has already been completed, but Saturday morning dozens of volunteers were at the park pulling weeds, sweeping dried mud off the trail and refilling the playground area with bark chips after the river washed all of them away.
Judy Vogt stood under the swing set with a rake, spreading bark chips as they were dumped in by the wheelbarrow-load. She joined the event through Oasis Vineyard Church.
“My church likes to help the community,” she said. “We’re not just a sit-at-home church.”
She said she was enjoying meeting new people at the event and was happy to see all ages participating.
Sharon Welsheimer said it was her first time participating in the I Love My City cleanup day because she has been out of town previous years.
“We love our city, what can I say?” she said when asked what brought her out to the park that morning.
Gina Castillo, who was weeding the landscaping around the park’s paths, echoed that sentiment.
“The name says everything,” she said. “I love my city and I want to be a part of it.”
On the other side of the park, Hermiston High School’s Eco Club was painting over the graffiti covering the underside of the Highland Avenue bridge.
Rachel Cairns, the club’s advisor, said they were hoping to persuade the city that the area needed to be covered with a mural and a statue now that the new West Highland Trail travels underneath.
“Research shows that once you beautify a public space in a more permanent way, graffiti artists tend to leave it alone,” she said.
Harrison Temple, who was using a roller to spread gray paint over names and swear words scrawled on the underside of the bridge, said most of the graffiti wasn’t very family-friendly and he was glad to help get rid of it, but there were a few things that he was a little sad to paint over.
“This is something we’ve been planning for a long time, but this is the city stepping in and giving us some resources,” he said. “This is not the end of what we want to do here. We want to make it a family-friendly art space.”