Finding tires, wigs, pajamas and more, volunteers clean up Palatine streets

  • Volunteers from the Palatine chapter of Clean Up -- Give Back are shown here after a cleanup along Rand Road.

    Volunteers from the Palatine chapter of Clean Up -- Give Back are shown here after a cleanup along Rand Road. Photo courtesy of Gale Padmanaban

Updated 2/25/2022 7:02 PM

Hub caps, spare tires and glass bottles.

A beer-filled cooler, an adult onesie pajama, wigs and fake eyelashes. Pipes and needles. Several IDs. A purse and a gun shelf. A 2-year-old check, not cashed.


That's all trash littering the streets that has been collected in the last two years by a group of Palatine volunteers.

Gale Padmanaban, co-president of the Palatine chapter of Clean Up -- Give Back, said the effort is well worth it.

"It's something we are all passionate about," she said. "We just want to give back to the community and keep it clean."

Clean Up -- Give Back is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit based in Des Plaines. Padmanaban moved from Des Plaines to Palatine and decided to start up the effort locally.

Cleanups typically take place along major streets, like Rand Road and Route 53, but also neighborhood streets, and grocery and apartment building parking lots. Volunteers normally get together on weekends, once or twice a month in summer, sporadically in winter.

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The motto is, "One hour makes a difference."

They get a yellow vest, a pair of grabbers and trash bags. There are challenges, like "who can pick up the most trash in 15 minutes" or "who can get the biggest piece of trash." Dress-up themes during cleanup include "Halloween in July"and "Merry and Bright."

Drivers often express support and sometimes even stop and join in, Padmanaban said.

"It amazing how much support we get," she said.

The trash either is thrown into dumpsters or picked up by the village's public works department, she said. Occasionally, the group finds signs of homeless residents, like pillows or blankets under bridges. In those cases, "you really have to make a judgment call," Padmanaban said. "Sometimes I pretend I didn't see it. Otherwise, if it looks like nobody's been here for a while, I will just throw it."

An unmet need

Clean Up -- Give Back was founded in 2018 by Donna Adam of Des Plaines, who serves as its president.

Adam said through her volunteering and service on nonprofit boards, she saw the need for an organization to tackle cleanup in communities.

The nonprofit has several chapters in the suburbs and out of state, such as Oak Park/River Forest and St. Louis. The website at doesn't list them all.


Last year, the nonprofit engaged 13,079 volunteers who donated 9,527 service hours and filled 4,582 tall kitchen bags, removing 41,814 pounds of trash from the environment, Adam said.

"Every year we keep having this tremendous growth," she said.

People can sign up for specific cleanup events, or they can do it on their own time. That's what makes the group successful, Adam said.

"I believe more people would volunteer if they had flexibility," she said.

Flexible service requires a one-time $25 payment for a lifetime membership with the nonprofit. Volunteers can pick up the cleanup equipment in Des Plaines or have it mailed for $12.50 to keep.

The flexible service program satisfies community service requirements for work, school and the courts, Adam said.

Plastic bag drive

The group's big upcoming effort is a plastic bag drive in April, which is Earth Month.

Padmanaban said she and chapter Co-President Freyda Lewis along with three others who serve on the board, have been reaching out to various businesses. Among those who have signed up are a building contractor in Rolling Meadows, two schools in Palatine Township Elementary District 15 and salons in Palatine and Arlington Heights.

The nonprofit will drop off boxes so participants can collect plastic bags. Volunteers will pick up the contents each week throughout April.

The goal is to collect at least 500 pounds of plastic bags, which will allow a partner company to use the material to make a community bench. The chapter will seek sponsorships to pay for cleanup equipment and materials.

For information or to join the Palatine chapter, visit or email

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