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How members of different faiths became friends while cleaning up around Portland

Participants collected between 500 and 600 pounds of trash on the first interfaith trash pickup day around Portland, Oregon, on Sept. 18, 2021. Here are members of the Aloha 1st Ward in the Beaverton Oregon West Stake with Bilal Masjid Mosque. Credit: Steve Rallison
Latter-day Saints and Muslims in the Portland, Oregon area smile for a picture after two hours of working together to pickup trash in their community on Sept. 18, 2021. Around 50 people from the Aloha 1st Ward in the Beaverton Oregon West Stake and the Bilal Masjid Mosque participated. Credit: Steve Rallison
Muslims and Latter-day Saints picking up trash around the Portland, Oregon area on Sept. 18, 2021. The Aloha 1st Ward in the Beaverton Oregon West Stake and the Bilal Masjid Mosque participated.More interfaith service projects are planned for the future. Credit: Steve Rallison

A desire to clean up trash and help the homeless in Portland, Oregon, led to new friendships between different faith groups in the area. Even on one of the rainiest days of September 2021, a large group of Latter-day Saints and Muslims cheerfully worked side by side cleaning up their community.

This came about after commotion, protests and riots rocked Portland more than many other cities around the United States in 2020 and 2021.
“It went on and on and on, and our beautiful city — we saw small businesses get vandalized and inventory stolen, there was trash and graffiti,” said Steve Rallison, a member of the Church who serves as interfaith relations director in Portland. “We came together and said we have to do something. We have to try to restore the beauty of our city.”

Several faith groups were talking individually about what could be done. Rallison heard from the Aloha 1st Ward in the Beaverton Oregon West Stake about wanting to do a trash cleanup day. The ward is not far from the Bilal Masjid Mosque, which already had a date for its members to focus on.
Rallison thought it could be an interfaith cleanup. He spoke with other members of United in Spirit, a group of religious leaders in the greater Portland metro area. “We’ve got a ready-made opportunity here to do a proof of concept, to try out and see how this is going to work and how much work it is going to be,” he told them.

They partnered with a community-based organization called SOLVE, which sponsors trash pickups and trains volunteers. Rallison explained the objective, to create friends from different faith communities as they worked together doing something good in the community — collecting trash and keeping the communities clean and safe. 

And after some training, they were ready for Sept. 18. And then it rained. It was the most rain in months. Rallison thought only a few people might show up. “But it was unbelievable,” he said. “We had over 50 people show up both from the Church and the mosque. They had heard about it and wanted to be a part of it.”

Latter-day Saints and Muslims in the Portland, Oregon, area smile for a picture after two hours of working to pick up trash in their community on Sept. 18, 2021. Around 50 people from the Aloha 1st Ward in the Beaverton Oregon West Stake and the Bilal Masjid Mosque participated.
Latter-day Saints and Muslims in the Portland, Oregon, area smile for a picture after two hours of working to pick up trash in their community on Sept. 18, 2021. Around 50 people from the Aloha 1st Ward in the Beaverton Oregon West Stake and the Bilal Masjid Mosque participated. | Credit: Steve Rallison

They were all dressed in appropriate rain gear and given assignments that mixed them with others they didn’t know. Each group got a map of a section to clean. They collected around 500 to 600 pounds of trash. They ended the day with donuts and cider.
It was bigger than picking up the trash, said Rallison. “It was clear that people had stepped out of their comfort zones. They were talking and getting to know each other, which is what we hoped would happen.”

Now the ward and mosque want to partner again to do service more frequently. Rallison said they will also use JustServe.org for the next scheduled trash pickup days, as United in Spirit is now planning four more events for this coming year that will be even bigger in scope.

Rallison said creating relationships and serving together means big things start to happen.

“The archdiocese and synagogues will be involved, too, to get that broad swath of all the religious communities doing something good for the community, while creating friendships by removing stereotypes and prejudices and all the things we carry around with us.”

Muslims and Latter-day Saints pick up trash around the Portland, Oregon, area on Sept. 18, 2021. The Aloha 1st Ward in the Beaverton Oregon West Stake and the Bilal Masjid Mosque participated. More interfaith service projects are planned for the future.
Muslims and Latter-day Saints pick up trash around the Portland, Oregon, area on Sept. 18, 2021. The Aloha 1st Ward in the Beaverton Oregon West Stake and the Bilal Masjid Mosque participated. More interfaith service projects are planned for the future. | Credit: Steve Rallison

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