Each day for the past three years, Russ Filsinger’s afternoon routine hasn’t changed.
After hopping on his bicycle for his daily exercise, Filsinger covers every corner of his community at Wilderness Lake Preserve in Land O’ Lakes and the nearby shopping plaza.
He picks up litter.
He gathers the trash, whether it’s candy wrappers, soda cans, fast-food bags, straws, empty alcohol bottles, dog refuse, or even COVID masks (he’s up to 500 of those).
He collects it all and disposes of it properly, recycling, if necessary.
The work usually takes about two hours, each day.
For three years.
“Russ is one of those kind people who cares about the earth and wants to keep his neighborhood clean,’’ said Franca Carlino Anderson.
She’s Filsinger’s neighbor and got to know him because she was curious about why he continually picked up trash.
“He’s an amazing part of our community. He’s not looking for accolades or even to be noticed. He just cares,” the neighbor said.
“I think it makes him happy to see the earth clean, the way God intended,’’ said Filsinger’s wife, Jeanne. “His dedication is something. I pick up things, too, if I’m walking by. But I’m not on the bike making sure every little thing is picked up. It makes our whole area look so much better. People love what he is doing.’’
Filsinger, 71, is a retired social worker from New Jersey. He has worked with homeless, gangs and drug addicts. He retired due to health reasons and moved to Florida, where he toured with a Christian rock band, then became a minister. He has been a prison chaplain and a hospice chaplain. He has volunteered as a guardian ad litem for children.
“My bio is kind of interesting,’’ said Filsinger, who now ministers at Grace Family Church.
It’s mostly about helping.
“It’s such an easy concept, but we all can do something, even if it’s a very small thing … and small things can add up,’’ Filsinger said.
Three years ago, Filsinger grew weary of incessant litter around his neighborhood; maintenance workers weren’t quick about removing it. So Filsinger took matters into his own hands — literally — and began sweeping through the area with his trash bags.
“Instead of getting mad at the people who litter, I’m determined to beat them,’’ Filsinger said. “And the best way to beat them is if I can pick it up faster than they can throw it out of their car windows.
“It became a challenge to me. You can throw out whatever you want — a box, a carton, a Big Gulp cup — but I’m going to pick it up and dispose of it properly. Everyone wins and you lose.’’
Filsinger was riding his bike anyway for fitness. He’s dealing with various physical woes, such as foot neuropathy, severe osteoarthritis and lack of function in his hands and fingers. No matter. He keeps going.
“Doing this has made my bike ride longer, but more meaningful,’’ Filsinger said. “And it’s not just trash. I take dead animals off the roads. I don’t want kids going by on their scooters, seeing these carcasses being taken apart by buzzards. I just want people to see green, bushes and flying birds, not this endless plastic stuff that’s all over our roads.’’
In addition to the area’s roads, sidewalks, pathways, ponds and green spaces, Filsinger has taken his work to Wilderness Commons, a shopping plaza at the front of Wilderness Lake Preserve. The store owners are appreciative. Filsinger combs the parking lot and also makes sure things are securely in the dumpster.
“It only takes a few minutes to get it all straight,’’ Filsinger said. “Now there’s nothing there, not even one straw wrapper. I’m pretty proud of it. This is very satisfying.’’
All the neighbors know about Filsinger now.
Cars honk their horns and people wave.
He gets thank-you wishes from passersby.
The Wildness Lake Preserve newsletter did a short write-up on Filsinger.
The final line: “His efforts are to be applauded!’’
Filsinger isn’t stopping or even slowing down. If anything, he’s picking up speed.
“I think littering is getting worse,’’ Filsinger said. “One of my goals is to get all people to care about picking up litter. We can really make a dent.
“My philosophy has been, ‘If I don’t do it, who’s going to do it?’ So the job never really stops. If I can do this at my age while having fun doing it … maybe others can get the same type of satisfaction.
“I’d love others to join in. If we all did a little something to help our world, wouldn’t this be a much better world?”
By Joey Johnston
Published August 11, 2021