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The world stopped. They didn’t


Ryan Blancke

Public works official
Rotary Club of York, South Carolina

 

I am the assistant public works director of York County, South Carolina. We’re a small community; the population in the county is 281,000. We have a little over 250 employees in our public works department. Under public works, we have road maintenance, water and sewer utility, landfill and trash collection, recycling, animal control, vehicle maintenance, and other things. All of those are essential functions. Whether we have trees down, or snow and ice, or a pandemic, we still have to provide all of those services.

“Right now, because everybody is at home and they’re cleaning out their garages, our landfill and recycling centers are flooded.”

In March, we started to see more cases of the virus in our area. There was already a shortage of masks, especially the N95 masks. We have 16 collection centers where people drop off their recyclables, and we try to protect those frontline staff who are dealing with not only people, but their trash. Right now, because everybody is at home and they’re cleaning out their garages, our landfill and recycling centers are flooded. We’re not able to sort some of the commingled recyclables right now, so they’re going to the landfill.

Sometimes I’ll tell somebody I work for York County Public Works and they’ll nod. But typically they don’t know what that means. As long as your toilets are flushing and you have water coming out of your faucet and a place to put your trash, you don’t even think about it. But if those things weren’t there, it would be a big deal.

A lot of restaurants and other places in the area are doing promotions for nurses and frontline workers. None of our guys are asking for it, but I know they don’t get the same kind of support, even though the federal government recognized public workers as essential critical infrastructure workers. But I would say the mood is positive. They’ve all been great. They just keep showing up and saying, “I work for York County Public Works.”

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• This story originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of The Rotarian magazine.