One glimpse of the picker and the white Tilley hat lets people know Garry Epp is out and about on his cleanup route.
The 68-year-old retired civil servant has been picking up litter in the Charleswood area for 13 years. Epp retired at age 55, and when he stopped working, he said one of his goals was to walk more. As Epp started walking one day, he saw someone pick up litter.
"I started informally picking up a few pieces here and there, and after that, it started to grow a lot more," Epp said.
His daughter gave him a white Tilley hat, his wife Diane gave him gloves, and his neighbour insisted he use a picker to pick up the litter so he wouldn’t hurt his back bending down so much. Epp’s uniform was soon easily recognized by many community members, and his daily treks to pick up garbage gained him admiration and respect from his neighbours.
"I always see him when I’m driving around Charleswood. I saw him picking up garbage and thought, ‘I have to stop to thank him one day,’" Nicki Clearwater, a Charleswood resident, said. "He’s just tireless, always out there. Sometimes it’s raining when he’s out there."
And Clearwater did get a chance to thank Epp — she tracked him down and gave him a small gift of two Tupperware bottles.
"I said, ‘Wow, you’re amazing, thank you so much for keeping our streets clean,’" Clearwater said.
Clearwater, who has lived in Charleswood for nine years, said the area is noticeably cleaner than other parts of the city due to Epp’s efforts.
Epp said picking up litter is a year-round operation for him — even during winter. However, Epp said he ventures out only if the temperature is -20 degrees with windchill or warmer.
"Spring is a heavy season, because I’m trying to catch up on picking up garbage from the winter," Epp said. "There’s so much left."
Epp usually heads out to pick up litter three hours a day, five days a week. On average, Epp said he covers about five miles a day, often taking a coffee break to catch his breath before heading home. Some of Epp’s routes include Roblin Boulevard, Dale Boulevard, and Laxdal Road.
"If I really have been able to persist at it, occasionally I get up to Portage Avenue, but that’s only once or twice a year," Epp said.
Epp said he picks up litter because he believes no one should have to be looking at so much garbage.
He also finds the process beneficial for his health, saying walking helps improve his flexibility, hand-eye co-ordination, balance, and general strength.
"It also gives me great contact with the community, way beyond what I thought I would have," Epp said. "When people see the hat, they honk their horn, and I give them a wave of the picker."
Epp isn’t actively looking for people to join him on his cleaning escapades, since it’s not the most glamorous job, but he’s enjoying his solo cleaning sessions and meeting new people at the same time.
"One little kid came up to me and said, ‘When I get bigger, I want to help you,’" Epp said with a laugh. "It’s a dirty job, but for me, it fits just like a glove."