If you live or work in the Edgewood area you have probably seen “The Trash Lady.” Lots of local passers-by wave and toot their car horns in appreciation, but few actually know who this dedicated, community-minded woman is.
With a good-natured laugh, Pat Burns acknowledges it’s not a title she ever thought she’d have, but she has come to take pride in it. In fact, people have suggested nicer titles, but, when people say “The Trash Lady” everyone quickly understands the speaker is referring to that wonderful person who diligently cleans up the town’s main thoroughfares. In fact, acknowledging Burns’ efforts and the community’s appreciation, the town of Edgewood proclaimed April 22, 2017, Earth Day, to be known as “Pat Burns Day” in Edgewood.
Walking is something Burns was familiar with, having worked six years as a U.S. Postal Carrier in Pennsylvania. At that time, she was walking six days a week, 55 hours per week, delivering mail year-round in all weather conditions: sun, humidity, rain, snow, and wind. It was good training, Burns said. “But, in Edgewood, my biggest fear is snakes.” So far she has only come across one, a bull snake.
Burns explained that she didn’t set out to start a clean-up project on Edgewood’s roads. Instead it began last summer when she undertook a challenge offered by her health insurance carrier: walk 7,500 steps per day for six days over a three-week period. When she started walking the trails along N.M. 344 and Historic Route 66, it became immediately clear to her there was a need for clean-up. The following day, and every walk day since, she has gone out armed with trash bags and gloves to make town clean-up part of her routine.
That routine is a regular 5-mile loop that stretches along Historic Route 66 from Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union on the east end to State Farm Insurance to the west, and along N.M. 344 from Route 66 northward to First Choice Community Health at Venus Road. She recently added a short stretch along Church Road near Walmart, where she says one particular cow playfully engages her as she works along the fence line. Burns has supplied her own work gloves and trash bags, but admits her rubber-palmed gloves are in need of replacement and the cost of hundreds of trash bags has definitely added up.
Burns’ interest in community service began as a child, she said. “We used to do backyard shows to raise money for cerebral palsy.” She fondly recalls how she and her sisters doubled their fundraising each successive summer: “We raised $16 the first summer, then $32, then $64.”
Burns also discovered very early in life that she loves entrepreneurship. She began a ‘school’ for neighborhood pre-schoolers, charging parents 35 cents to tutor youngsters in ABCs, counting and writing. As an adult, she has started several successful endeavors including a picture framing shop, an antiques and collectibles business which kept her traveling the country for five years, and she spent 11 years as a real estate professional before moving to New Mexico.
Her real passion is animals. In Pennsylvania, she founded and ran a non-profit cat rescue for six years. She encouraged community volunteerism, getting local veterinarians, vet technicians, and community members to donate their time so the cat rescue could offer regular free spay and neuter clinics. Not surprisingly, one of the ways she raised money to support the clinic was participating in several different walking marathons, raising more than $13,000 in the process.
Cleaning up Edgewood roadways has provided some unexpected surprises. Over the past nine months, Burns has found a number of discarded or lost items, including about $50 in cash, a bicycle, iPad, enough tools to fill a tool box, credit cards, and an unopened bottle of peppermint schnapps.
“It’s like a treasure hunt, you never know what you’re going to find,” she said. Burns takes found items to the police station in hopes that they might be reconnected with whomever lost them.
So, what challenges has Burns encountered out on the trails? She laughs, and quickly says, “The wind!” Not only does it make chasing down trash a challenge, but Burns is small in stature. The combination of strong Edgewood winds and the occasional mis-step has knocked her off her feet more than once. But she sees the humor in how silly she must look tumbling around fighting with a trash bag while trying to climb back onto her feet.
In the year since Burns first moved to Edgewood, the community has benefitted from her efforts in numerous ways. She quickly got involved and began regularly volunteering at Edgewood’s Animal Shelter and for Edgewood Chamber of Commerce.
“I need to keep busy,” says the 63-year-old, whose energetic persona belies her age.
Asked what advice she has for people in the community who might want to get involved, Burns says, “Just do it—just get up and go.”
When she began nine months ago, she averaged about six filled trash bags per day. Now, there is less to clean up and she’s averaging about 10 bags per week.
Burns says helping the community makes her feel good. “I love when people beep their horn.” Several people have even stopped to show appreciation for Burns’ efforts; one gave her a gift card and another a goodie bag with holiday treats. Burns appreciates when people stop to tell her she inspires them, or even that seeing her out there makes them feel guilty they aren’t contributing to their community. But, Burns believes strongly in the adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” Her hope is that maybe by seeing her cleaning up Edgewood, others might get involved in their community, take pride in their town, or avoid throwing a piece of trash out the car window.
Communities throughout the East Mountains and Estancia Valley have numerous volunteer opportunities. Whatever your interest or available time, there are options for getting involved and actively participating in your community in meaningful ways.
Pat Burns was recently recognized by Edgewood for cleaning up along the town’s roadways. In addition, Burns volunteers time for the Edgewood Animal Shelter and Edgewood Chamber of Commerce. She is hopeful that her actions might inspire others to get involved.
Roger Holden, of Edgewood, and Debbie Pogue of Moriarty, volunteer as President and Vice President, respectively, of RETRO 66, a non-profit organization that works to preserve history and enhance the economic impact of Historic Route 66 in our region. The group has organized clean-ups at Midway Trading Post in Edgewood, fundraised to create tourism opportunities such as restoring the neon lights at Whiting Brothers in Moriarty. RETRO 66 will soon be creating a 45-foot by 13-foot mobile License Plate Wall, a which will be a mosaic depiction of the entire historic route through New Mexico made entirely out of license plates. Volunteers will be needed to complete the mosaic.
Research by Corporation for National & Community Service showed a strong connection between volunteerism and health. The report indicates those who volunteer have “lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.”
Local youth-serving organizations such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, FFA, 4-H, Route 66 Arts Alliance, Talking Talons, and Wildlife West Nature Park are popular in our area. Through different areas of interest, each of these organizations teaches skills and strives to instill the value of community service and leadership.
Youth sports organizations typically need volunteer referees, coaches, equipment management and snack bar staff.
Civic organizations such as Rotary Club and Lions Club, plus many churches, have regular and periodic projects that need volunteers. You can also support the work of these organizations by buying tickets to attend their fundraising events, offering your special skills to help behind the scenes or at an event.
Most municipalities in our region rely on the input and service of volunteers for committees, advisory boards, community services, and event support. Check with your local library, animal shelter, parks & recreation, and municipal office or websites for volunteer opportunities and support community events such as clean-up days, tree plantings, and the arts.
No matter your age, skill level, available time, or mobility, there is an organization in our region that would benefit from and appreciate your time and service. Seek them out and discover both the satisfaction that comes from giving back and the friendships community volunteering forges.
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at email@example.com.