A bitter wind swept through a narrow Harrisburg alley on Monday, but Puja Gellerman had springtime firmly in her sights.
Over here, she said, would be some hardy plants; over there, native perennials.
“We want to bring more beauty to this place,” said Gellerman, a master gardener and Midtown Harrisburg resident.
Little-known Patrick Alley, which sits in back of a strip of businesses along the 1300-block of N. 3rd Street, could be called a lot of things—neglected, forlorn—but “beautiful” is typically not among those words.
Today, though, about 35 people took a first step toward reclaiming this patch of land as volunteers from Friends of Midtown, Sprocket Mural Works and the Junior League of Harrisburg took up rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows to clear out the trash, litter and weeds as part of the annual Central Pennsylvania MLK Day of Service.
Throughout the city, hundreds of volunteers similarly spent their day off painting, scrubbing, sweeping and helping others, gathering at sites that ranged broadly from The Bridge’s new home at the former Bishop McDevitt High School to Paxton Ministries on Paxton Street to Gospel Fellowship Church in Uptown Harrisburg to the main gathering point at Commonwealth Charter Academy.
Down 3rd Street, Keisha Ordaz set up a table outside of Gifted Hands Barber Studio with bottles of water, blankets, gloves and other items so that people could stop by and pick up whatever they needed.
Inside the shop, they gave away free and discounted haircuts and served chicken noodle soup donated by the neighboring restaurant, Pastorante. Two doors down, craft ice cream vendor Urban Churn offered delicious hot cocoa for anyone who asked.
“So far, we’ve had a pretty decent turnout, considering it’s so cold and no one is really outside,” Ordaz said.
These businesses were part of a more informal MLK Day effort to combine resources in the neighborhood to help people in need.
Urban Churn owner Adam Brackbill said that he hoped that the businesses on his block would continue their partnership, perhaps holding similar donation events every couple of months.
“Folks have been in and, I think, this afternoon, it will get a little busier,” he said.
Back up on cold Patrick Alley, Nate Lotze, co-chair of the Friends of Midtown beautification committee, said that he hoped their cleanup would be a first step in a major transformation of the narrow, usually deserted and unkempt street.
Sprocket Mural Works, along with Friends of Midtown, has approached the city to potentially create a pocket park on Patrick Alley and a small, adjoining section of Sayford Street. If they get the go-ahead, they would like to create a snug urban oasis with a garden, planters, seating and murals.
“No matter what the end project looks like, this is a great start for this space,” he said. “It lays the groundwork for what will come.”
Megan Caruso, Sprocket co-founder, said she was impressed with the turnout, especially given the sub-freezing temperatures and biting wind.
“We have a ton of people who came out,” she said. “It’s all happening very quickly.”
Councilman Dave Madsen also was in the thick of it on Patrick Alley, shoveling up dirt and debris as other volunteers raked out the weedy area that, come warmer weather, will become flowerbeds.
“It’s great to see people not just sleeping in but coming out and serving their community on MLK Day,” he said.