PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Thousands of volunteers spread out across Philadelphia on Saturday for the 16th annual Philly Spring Cleanup, an initiative that has helped remove millions of pounds of trash from the city.
"We're looking to grow instead of throw," said Pastor Darien Thomas from Walk the Light Ministries.
He says one of the biggest issues facing the neighborhood around 81st and Suffolk in Southwest Philadelphia is trash.
"It's very discouraging when you live in a situation where you're beautifying your home, and you're developing the community, and you come out your steps and you see trash," said Thomas.
The vacant lot his group was focused on has become a notorious illegal dumping ground, where the street is littered with discarded coffee cups and old tires that may outnumber the weeds.
"I think it takes away the very pride and dignity that people have and want to move and live here. People who want to move in a community, when they see this, they go right away," said Carlton Williams, a streets commissioner.
Williams and other city officials visited the Southwest Philadelphia lot, one of 600 spots across the city where volunteers were picking up trash.
This year's theme was "Keep It Clean Philly." In 16 years, volunteers and the streets department have helped remove more than 11.4 million pounds of trash from the city.
"So this stuff doesn't stay on the ground and doesn't impact the neighborhood and the community and most importantly, the people who live here and the environment," said Williams.
The city's plan for "Keep it Clean" goes beyond Saturday's cleanup. Officials say it needs to be an all-year-round effort. One way they'll do that is by installing 400 surveillance cameras around the city at illegal dumping ground hotspots.
In Southwest Philadelphia, the community has big plans to transform this space for good.
"We're looking to start on Monday morning, working on what we heard today so we can make this an urban garden, and it can be a place where people can live," said Thomas.