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Great American Cleanup
AnnaLie Whitney, left, and Kaylee Stubbs pick up trash at Poly Drive Elementary on Saturday. The girls were taking part in the Great American Cleanup with other students from Poly Drive. Hundreds of Billings residents fanned out across the city to clean.

It may not have been much of a nice day around Billings on Saturday — with chilly winds and the threat of snow and rain on the horizon — but hundreds of residents helped make Billings a nicer place by cleaning up litter.

The Great American Cleanup, organized locally by Bright 'n Beautiful, is an annual event to pick up trash in parks, along roads and in neighborhoods.

"The effort this year, I feel, has been tremendous," said Helen Johnson, executive director of Bright 'n Beautiful.

People began the cleanup at 8 a.m. and fanned out to all corners of the city, bags in hand.

A group of about eight Poly Drive Elementary students — sisters Carlyn and AnnaLie Whitney,  Cecilia Kozicz, sisters Kaylee and Hannah Stubbs, siblings Kristen and Joey Reilly and Rosa Roccisano, ages 6 to 9 — a handful of parents and a teacher spent the day close to home, cleaning the area around the school between Poly Drive and Rimrock Avenue.

"It was a pretty crazy day," said Hannah Stubbs, 6. "It was kind of fun picking up. We went all around the school."

Midway through their efforts, the group walked down the road to Poly Food Basket, 2648 Poly Drive, where employees gave them some hot chocolate to warm up.

Lori Smith is a second grade teacher at Poly, and about half the kids were her students.

"Hopefully, they'll all go home and clean up their alleys on a regular basis," she said. "They learned about neighborhoods last fall, so this is fitting."

Johnson said the annual event drew between 300 and 500 people this year, mostly families and large groups. Bright 'n Beautiful members gathered in the Senior High parking lot for the day to hand out trash bags and collect them when people filled them up.

"We had people taking 20 and 40 (trash) bags to fill up," Johnson said. "Some of them even took 60."

Last year's event in Billings brought in about 180,000 pounds of trash.

The Poly students said they found some odd items — paint chips, miniature potatoes and broken yard tools to go along with usual rocks, paper and leaves — and were excited about the end results.

"It was like buying your favorite toy all over again," said AnnaLie Whitney, 7.

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Contact Zach Benoit at zbenoit@billingsgazette.com or 657-1357.

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