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More than two weeks into the partial government shutdown, a group of volunteers in Philadelphia braved the rain to pick up trash that had accumulated on Independence Mall, a section of the city's Independence National Historical Park and home of historic sites such as the Liberty Bell and Philadelphia's Independence Hall.
Since the shutdown began, furloughed federal workers have not been able to maintain the park’s usually pristine landscape and the brick sidewalks and grass became littered with trash and food waste. But on Saturday, more than a dozen men of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association donned brightly colored vests and gloves to do their part in keeping the area clean of gum wrappers, cigarette butts, and more.
The volunteers are part of a larger nationwide effort to help maintain some of the national parks that have become overwhelmed with trash due to the government shutdown.
“We found out about parks overflowing with trash on Wednesday,” Salaam Bhatti, a spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, said. “Our organization’s president asked regional presidents of our group to see what parks were in their area that they could help clean up.”
Five local chapters mobilized more than 70 volunteers to help clean up national parks and monuments around the country, according to the association, which is comprised of Ahmadiyya Muslims, a branch of Islam which teaches service and tolerance and has faced persecution in the past. Clean-up sites, according to the group's Facebook page, have included the Everglades National Park in Florida, Joshua Tree National Park in California, the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.
Bhatti said there was no hesitation among the members when asked if they wanted to help the mounting trash problem national parks had faced in the past few weeks. In fact, the group, he added, has always been active in communities during times of need, from planting trees to participating in disaster relief.
"Serving the communities that we live in is not just a civic responsibility, but also a part of our faith," he said.
The group, comprised of about 5,000 members between the ages of 15 to 40 around the country, is now part of a collection of private agencies and citizens who are stepping up to help during the partial government shutdown, which at this time doesn’t seem to be coming to an end anytime soon.
“The response has been overwhelming," Bhatti said, noting that their volunteers were greeted with appreciated and thanks from strangers who saw their efforts. "We saw people on Reddit and Twitter asking, ‘How can I help?'”
Since the government shutdown, three people have died in national parks around the country and most national park rangers have been furloughed, resulting in mostly unsupervised areas that could be more dangerous. In previous government shutdowns, national parks have been closed to the public, but the Trump administration opted to keep many of the parks open during the current shutdown.