ANTIOCH -- Pick up, drop, repeat. Pick up, drop, repeat.
With a metal picker in her right hand and a white plastic bag in the left, Beverly Knight combed City Park in Antioch on a recent Monday morning looking to clean up a long weekend's worth of litter.
The bag made a faint rustle as Knight dropped a plastic water bottle into the rapidly filling pile.
A cigarette butt, a greasy fast-food paper bag, a torn ice-cream wrapper and another cigarette butt all went in the garbage. Plop, plop, plop, plop.
"It's actually not too bad out here today," said Knight, giving the half-full bag a quick shake. "Maybe (coming out here) is starting to make a difference. The little things can quickly become big things."
For the past 10 months, Knight has come out every morning to the city's oldest park, waging a one-woman battle against litter.
"Hopefully, this becomes a fashion statement," Knight said, holding up the picker and bag.
Joseph Renteria, of Oakley, started helping Knight after seeing her toil every day while riding his bike to work. "She is like a ray of sunshine. She is making a great contribution," he said.
Renteria now spends about 15 minutes helping Knight each day.
"I asked her where I could apply," he said.
Knight, 56, finds myriad trash items on any given day, including some not suitable for being near a playground. She says she often finds condoms, cotton swabs used to clean crack pipes, syringes, liquor bottles and drug baggies.
Fortunately, Knight said, the worst thing on this Monday was the gooey, sticky mess of melted ice cream.
"It's that time of year. The city needs to bring someone out to hose things down," she said.
Knight says her "crusade" started in early 2011 as she saw a growing amount of trash piling up in city neighborhoods, leading her to "rant about what I was seeing."
Daughter Liz Knight, of Lodi, told her a local group of like-minded folks had formed a Facebook group, Take Back Antioch. Beverly was empowered to make her voice heard.
"I think my daughter created a monster," she said.
Beverly's tipping point came in March 2011. After seeing mounting litter at a bus stop on Delta Fair Boulevard near the Bizi Mart convenience store, she went there one Saturday and cleaned it up herself.
She took eight large bags of trash to the dump and paid the $22 fee. Brittney Gougeon, Take Back Antioch's founder, said Knight is action-oriented and not afraid to speak out about important issues. Knight embodies what the group is all about, she said.
"She's just fearless and leads by example," Councilman Gary Agopian said. "There are a lot of people who may complain about something from afar, but she just digs in and works at it.
"The more Beverlys we have in Antioch, the better city we will be."
Liz Knight says litter has long been one of her mom's pet peeves.
"One of Mom's big things has always been picking up after yourself and throwing things away. She instills it in the kids at her child care as well," she said. "It's a labor of love. She loves her town, and I think frustration in how Antioch looks lately has taken it to a whole 'nother level."
Born and raised in Pacifica, Knight married her high school sweetheart, Gary Knight. He found a job as a fiberglass and asbestos insulator for Dow Chemical, and the couple moved to Pittsburg. They later settled in a home on the western side of Antioch.
Beverly is not super tidy in all aspects of life, though, her daughter said. Rather, it was her love of children and clean parks that inspired her.
"She's always wanted children to be able to express themselves and be able to go to a park and run free without having to worry about finding bad stuff at the parks," the younger Knight said about her mother. "I find part of the inspiration is having a love for the Earth and the environment and pride for her city."
While Gary worked in the factory, Beverly started All In R Family child care. After his industrial career, he worked as a cook at Mac's Old House.
In the fall, he became gravely ill with a failing liver and heart condition. He died in January.
But rather than become isolated in grief, Beverly said she found purpose, and working to clean up the city turned out to be therapeutic.
"I found myself so filled with purpose I had to carry on," she said. "I thought I was saving the city. It turns out the city was saving me."
Knight also has volunteered as a photographer at local events, working with the Arts and Cultural Foundation of Antioch.
She has developed a wish list of things she would like to see Antioch implement, including placing "Do Not Litter" signs around parks, a citywide ban on plastic bags and an Adopt-A-Park program. She also is looking to form a Neighborhood Watch and is working with schools to encourage cleanups.
"If instead of complaining, we just get out there and do what we can, I think we could get so much more done," Knight said. "It makes me feel good that I can do my part."
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
Claim to fame: Started picking up litter around town, including daily at Antioch's City Park; group member of Take Back Antioch; participant in monthly neighborhood cleanup events; takes photos at civic events for Antioch Arts and Cultural Foundation.
Quote: "I can't single-handedly stop the litter problem, but I can do my part."
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