The morning pickup
In Donaldsonville most people exercise by walking a few blocks around their neighborhood, or jogging a few laps at the high school track. For 82-year-old Lester Lerch, simply walking isn’t enough. He has to be doing something.
Every morning between 6 and 9 a.m., Lerch rides around picking up trash around the city on a self-made tricycle that he built using a child’s bicycle and with a lot of the trash he found laying around town.
“I wanted to walk at first, but I don’t really walk fast enough to get exercise,” Lerch said. “I just couldn’t seem to go out just to walk. I had to be doing something useful while walking and I see all the trash around so I decided to pick it up.”
Lerch started picking the trash up about four years ago when he said he saw one of the Donaldsonville City Councilmen at Bellina’s Grocery Store picking up trash with his pickup truck and “I said well if he can do it, I guess I can do it.”
That councilman was Emile Spano. Spano said he remembers talking to Lerch about picking up some trash and remembers when he started. He said Lerch has been dedicated ever since.
“He is a valuable asset to me and my district because he picks up a lot of trash,” Spano said. “I’d hate to see how bad it would be if he didn’t.”
Lerch travels as to as far as Thibaut Drive and along Marchand Drive to past Railroad Avenue picking up trash on a kids bike he found and transformed into a three-wheeled garbage transporter.
He said he used to find a lot of bicycle parts at the basketball park because the kids used to bring their bikes there and throw them around and he’d pick them up.
“I even warned them and said if you’re going to leave your bike here, I’m going to take it home,” Lerch said. “Since then I hadn’t found a thing over there.”
Because his vehicle was originally a kid’s bike, he had to make some adjustments to it. He changed the seat so that it sets further back for more leg-room, invented a three-speed shifter out some old materials, and his latest feature was adding a wheelie bar for tipping backwards.
“I had quite a lot of fun with it,” Lerch said. “It’s about six months of just adding stuff here and there.”
He added the wheelie bar after tipping back and banging his head on the concrete about six weeks ago, landing him in the emergency room.
“But I did learn to wear the helmet,” he said, “had I been wearing the helmet I wouldn’t have had to go to the emergency room.”
In his daily pickup, Lerch finds anything from Walmart trash bags, cigarette butts and beer bottles – empty and full. He found a full four-pack of beer that had never been drank before in some bushes where he thinks somebody stashed them.
“People are picking up trash, they just don’t pick up the little stuff like cigarette butts and the worst thing of all is when people take a receipt out of the ATM and they tear it up and throw it down,” Lerch said. “That’s heartbreaking.”
Lerch admitted that picking up trash is quite a challenge, and said you just don’t see people doing it.
“My rule is you see it, pick it up,” Lerch said.
Spano added: “I appreciate greatly what he does for us. I can’t express my gratitude enough. If we could get a few more people to start picking even just in front of their own residences it would be a great help.”