TUPELO • Even as COVID-19 has halted major clean up projects for Keep Tupelo Beautiful, director Kathryn Rhea said there are still ways for people to help keep the community clean.

While people are still social distancing at home, Rhea said now is a good time for people to get outside.

“It’s great for your mind, great for your body, and ... there are ways for people to get outside and get physically active while also helping their community,” Rhea said.

One is by doing yard work and gardening, Rhea said. She noted that some people are using their time at home to complete yard projects such as cutting bushes and trimming limbs. She said that investing in their houses and yards helps encourage their neighbors to also invest in their property.

“Now is a great time to focus on neigborhoods and residences while everyone is at home. That will have a greater impact on our community,” Rhea said.

Gardening can be beneficial for parents, Rhea said.

“If you have kids at home, it’s a great time to start a garden to teach them about planting flowers, growing grass, anything that can get them involved in the yard (while also being) educational (and creating) life skills they would want to continue in the future,” Rhea said.

With less road travel due to social distancing, Rhea said she had noticed less trash on roadways; however, as people begin making use of parks, she is noticing more litter in local parks. She urges those using nature trails and parks to consider picking up trash along the way if they have gloves and a trash bag and to remember to pick up their own litter when out.

“When people are picking up litter, it’s always important to be self aware and create safety first. Make sure you are using the proper hand washing safety precautions. Think of that when you are out and about in any role of volunteering,” Rhea said.

Keep Tupelo Beautiful was impacted by COVID-19, Rhea said. Among impacted projects were 10 for Tupelo, which draws over 1,000 volunteers and features many local nonprofits and community supporters. Many beautification projects were postponed, such as a potential butterfly bed. The event has been rescheduled for a tentative date of Saturday, Sept. 12. Rhea hopes the new date will allow them to honor the original intent of the event.

“It’s an event of people coming together, so trying to self distance at a time of celebrating the community and celebrating volunteerism wasn’t what we wanted the event to be about,” Rhea said. “It’s part of the 150th celebration of the city, so it is better to postpone it than to modify it and make it less about people coming together.”

Other projects were started but not finished. For the Daffodil Project, students at local elementary schools planted thousands of daffodils, but the closure of schools meant students couldn’t watch the results of those earlier planting efforts. Keep Tupelo Beautiful has several community gardens that now don’t have the volunteers to maintain the gardens like before.

Rhea said they are working behind the scenes to help strengthen the organization once they come out of quarantine. They are waiting before launching new projects, but volunteers are already working to think of individualized projects and ways to break up tasks to require less volunteers at a time and spread out when they volunteer.

One example has been on the Music Bend Nature Trail project, where volunteers are working in smaller groups to help create an arboretum. The project is funded by the Tupelo Garden Club. Lisa Reed of the Tupelo Garden Club, local horticulturist Crofton Sloan, Bob Marion of Mid-South Nursery and Rhea identified trees along the trail, and in the coming weeks plaques will be printed and installed. The arboretum will be certified through the Mississippi Urban Foresty Council, Rhea said.

In the meantime, Rhea has seen people walking around their own neighborhoods and picking up trash along the way, and encourages people to help in small ways, such as making sure they dispose of items properly, try to reduce the number of paper plates and products in their homes, and continue recycling at home.

She suggests people take time to clean out their houses and donate items to local organizations in need. Volunteering at local food pantries or getting involved with virtual mentorship programs are a few of the opportunities Rhea has seen during this time, but she said there are plenty of ways to still be involved in the community while staying socially distant. It is important to keep that community connection, as it makes a difference for everyone, Rhea said.

“Don’t lose that sense of wanting to help out the community. Communities evolve in what people need help with, how people need help, so really find a way to help people,” Rhea said. “It’s important for people to still stay involved but do it in completely different ways we never thought of before.”

danny.mcarthur@journalinc.com

Twitter: @Danny_McArthur_

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