MISSOULA — Monday through Friday you may spot a squad of neon vests walking up and walking down 80 blocks of Missoula.
“Pickin’ up trash, pickin’ up leaves,” explains Missoulian Andy Bender.
The work isn’t glamorous, but it is honest.
“Oh, it’s just a little bit exhausting,” Bender told MTN News.
Bender has done this work for 16 years as a member of Missoula’s Clean Team. You’d be exhausted too if you had their to-do list.
“They removed 185 different posters last year, they cleaned alleys 574 times, they removed 98 cubic yards of garbage just on the sidewalks and gutters and alleys,” said Downtown Missoula Partnership executive director Linda McCarthy.
Rattling off a dozen other responsibilities, McCarthy explained how different downtown Missoula would look if it weren’t for the Clean Team.
“We hear quite often that our downtown is one of the cleanest that people experience,” said McCarthy.
It’s been that way since 2006 when a new program was created to focus not on municipal wear and tear, but on community care.
That program — the Clean Team — is a partnership between the Business Improvement District and Opportunity Resources. It helps adults with developmental disabilities gain and maintain fulfilling employment.
“It feels great, honestly, being able to take these guys out and do their jobs and actually make the community look a little nicer for everybody,” said Clean Team supervisor Colt Tronson.
Sweeping their way from the Madison Bridge to Imagine Nation Brewing, the Clean Team leaves an impression wherever they go.
Many downtown business owners and employees have come to know each member of the Clean Team by name.
“We get a lot of people coming down and just thanking us for what we're doing,” said Tronson.
You’ll find some of their biggest fans inside Worden’s.
Taking a break from the deli bar, employee Rae Gordon couldn’t wait to give a public thank you to the Clean Team.
“I always say, ‘thank you so much! You know, no one else is going and sweeping things up all the time, and they're like, thank YOU so much for letting us do this.’”
Head up and over one block and the folks at Silver Dollar Bar welcome the Clean Team right inside for a non-alcoholic “thank you.”
“I always buy them a soda, a can of soda pop, for going outside and sweeping and getting the cigarette butts and picking up garbage,” said part owner of the bar Kevin Martello.
“They come in and they sit down and get cool and relaxed and have their soda, and then on the way they go," Martello continued.
For Clean Team members like Andy Bender and Stevie Adams — who have both been with the group for over a decade — the work offers a sense of accomplishment.
“I get to help out and clean up the city,” said Bender.
It’s also about belonging and a chance to connect.
“I like seeing them because they do a really good job. They go around the whole building and the parking lot, they spruce everything up and make it look nice,” said Martello.
“It means that we don't have to sweep, but also that we're in community with them,” explained Gordon.
“We’re hopeful that they rely on us as a business and feel supported and loved and desired as we feel about them," Gordon continued. "It's just wonderful to have them around.”