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United Way of Lancaster County


Hand Up Partners: Food Hub collaborates on initiative hiring homeless individuals to clean parks

Culliton Park. Inset: Dave Costarella. (Source: Flyway | OUL)

Dave Costarella now has a nonprofit partner in his initiative to involve homeless individuals in cleaning up public spaces in Lancaster.

The Lancaster County Food Hub has joined with Costarella to support his program, now titled “Hand Up Partners.” The arrangement allows community members to make donations through the Food Hub to support Costarella’s efforts.

As One United Lancaster reported in June, Costarella has been recruiting homeless individuals to pick up trash in a quartet of city parks: Binns, Culliton, Reservoir and the Janice C. Stork Corridor Park. They are paid $20 a day.

The idea is an outgrowth of “My People on the Street,” Costarella’s grassroots initiative to help unsheltered people make it through the winter. Every year when cold weather hits, he checks in regularly on those sleeping outdoors, providing clothing, sleeping bags, backpacks and other necessities.

Financial and in-kind donations from friends and acquaintances supplement Costarella’s own outlays to pay for the supplies he hands out. He takes no money to cover his time, transportation or other costs.

That model has been challenging to sustain for the cleanup project. A full week of payments totals more than $500; to date, Costarella has paid out more than $8,000, including hundreds of dollars out of his own pocket. Understandably, his existing donors “are pretty tapped out,” he said.

With the Food Hub’s partnership, “this legitimizes it and brings it to the public,” he said.

The Food Hub accepts donations online or by mail. Those designated for “Hand Up Partners” will go to Costarella’s initiative, with 100% spent directly on the people cleaning up.

Positive change

Hand Up Partners embodies Costarella’s philosophy of making every individual a full partner in their own healing and journey to self-sufficiency, “at whatever level they are.” It’s also a way to counter negative perceptions by showing that unsheltered people can contribute to their neighborhoods.

Paige McFarling, the Food Hub’s executive director, said the nonprofit is seeing positive changes in the individuals Costarella has recruited: Earning money is motivating them, giving them choices and increasing their sense of responsibility.

“We see those differences,” she said.

Michelle cleans Culliton Park daily. (Photo: Dave Costarella)

In a recent Facebook post, Costarella highlighted Michelle, the Culliton Park cleaner. Despite mental illness, Crohn’s disease and addiction, she “has managed to transform the park,” he wrote, saying he watches her “get stronger by the day, in every way, shape and form.”

Besides Culliton Park, Michelle has been cleaning a few blocks of Water Street. Expanding into neighborhood street cleanups has been one of Costarella’s goals.

He and the SoWe neighborhood group have been discussing SoWe underwriting the Hands Up Project at and around Culliton. SoWe Director Amos Stoltzfus said the organization will do so, and is working out the details.

The Food Hub calls Hand Up Partners a win-win: Donors can receive the documentation they need to itemize their contributions on their taxes, while Costarella can do less fundraising and focus more on his outreach work.

“What I would love this partnership with Food Hub and SoWe to produce,” Costarella said, “is more opportunities and areas to change lives,  parks, city blocks and communities.”