Craig Faunce is a man on a mission to clean the trash and litter from the streets of Salisbury and surrounding areas.
Originally from Rockville, Md., he moved here to get away from the District of Columbia and to simplify his life. The 56-year-old sales manager at a car dealership retired early when health issues made it impossible to continue working.
“I believe I had the worst commute in the United States,” he said, referencing his daily hourlong drive to and from work in the Maryland suburbs.
He may have found that simpler life he’d been seeking here, but he’s also quickly made a name for himself as a dedicated litter picker-upper and community cleanup organizer.
“What’s more important than picking up is to stop people from throwing it on the ground in the first place,” said Faunce. “It’s maddening when you go back to the same places over and over. I go out onto Route 13 near where I live all the time. There’s always more trash.”
He is amazed at the volume.
“The amount of stuff that gets picked up is astounding,” he said. “If you look at everything we’ve picked up for the past three or four months, it’s an extraordinary amount. The crazy thing is, it’s only one mile of road along Route 13. And it’s even worse in some places.”
Faunce hopes people go out and join him in picking up trash.
“Earth Day is coming,” he pointed out. “Maybe people will pay more attention this year.”
Michelle Nelson of Salisbury joined Faunce for one roadside cleanup that has stretched into multiple times a week.
“I knew I had to help,” said Nelson. “After all, how much trash could there be? As it turned out, there was a lot more than I realized – and it was everywhere.”
Nelson said she would like to see more involvement by elected officials in the city – specifically, City Council members.
“I think Craig would welcome having every City Council member picking up trash with him for an hour within each of their districts,” she said.
Faunce has a dedicated group of people helping him in his daily trash pickups, and he posts daily photos of the trash on roadsides and 13-gallon trash bags filled to almost the bursting point with roadside litter. This is done to call more attention to the problem.
“He’s amassed a small army of people to help,” said Nelson, “including a service fraternity at Salisbury University, Alpha Phi Omega. The students in that chapter have made it one of their priorities to help him beautify Salisbury, according to the fraternity’s Facebook page.”
One recent rainy afternoon he was out picking up trash scattered along Naylor Mill Road, accompanied by Nelson.
“This is such a massive problem,” he said. “We’re just trying to be a glimmer of hope.”
And perhaps he is beginning to change minds and hearts.
“The other day I went to an area I had previously cleaned up because I had noticed a mess there the day before,” Faunce said. “But when I went, nothing was there. Someone else had cleaned it up. That was so awesome. I know someone picked it up; it didn’t just blow away.”
Salisbury’s elected leaders have followed his work around the city. The city recently honored his efforts with a proclamation.
“This is so cool,” he said, “quite an honor. March 3 is Craig Faunce Day in honor of what I am doing. Thank you goes a long way toward making your day better. Did you know some people go to work every day, work hard, and no one ever tells them thank you. Isn’t that crazy?”
He began his cleanup effort in late September, shortly after arriving in Salisbury. He said he just started walking and saw trash everywhere he went. He started picking up trash and saw people making Facebook comments after he posted.
“We are still a relatively small group,” Faunce said. And although it’s still a relatively small group, it’s growing. He said he would like to see this effort happening across Delmarva.
“A few weeks in, some of my friends sent me trash bags in the mail,” Faunce said. He posted a thank you, and his daughter made him a website in December. He began to garner media attention, and TV interviews happened.
Since then he’s had friends donate trash bags, gloves and other supplies. What doesn’t get donated, Faunce purchases from his own wallet.
His website is called The Faunce Foundation, although nothing about it is like a foundation. There’s no staff, no fundraising, no board of directors. It’s just information about what he’s doing to make his adopted home a cleaner community.
On Naylor Mill Road, Faunce found a furry headband with doughnuts sticking up, attached by skinny springs. But that isn’t the strangest thing he’s found.
“The strangest item I ever found is a little skeleton head with LED light bulbs for eyes,” he said. The most common items he finds are used disposable face masks, water bottles, small liquor bottles (Fireball), and cigarette butts by the trillions.
“I try to pick up a good area of cigarettes every day,” he said.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” Faunce said, “but I hope people don’t think it’s about picking up trash. If people don’t stop putting it on the ground, it’s all a waste of time.”
His advice to everyone: Stop adding to what’s already out there.
“What’s already out there is extraordinary,” he said. “We certainly can pick it up, but if you’re just going to replace what’s picked up with more trash, you’re just dog-paddling, just treading water.”
He said he was asked once when he became an environmentalist.
“I’m not an environmentalist,” he said. “I just started thinking about how my parents had an appreciation for this country. We traveled a lot, driving across the country in three different directions. We live in an amazing, beautiful home, there’s nothing else like it on Earth, and we’re just trashing it. I do not understand it.”
He hopes his foundation, which is dedicated to the memory of his parents because they showed him the beauty around him, will continue to grow.
“Please, when you go out and pick up trash, post pictures, let people know what you are doing. You can post on my Facebook page. This is not just about me,” Faunce said. “I want it to grow and continue well past my years. I really believe this is just the beginning.”
Faunce has his own version of an old adage: “A bag a day protects the bay.”