What if keeping a Seattle neighborhood clean was easy? 

That’s the question 14-year-old Girl Scouts Evelyn Bell, Paige Dempsey and Emma Kelley asked themselves while plotting their Silver Award service project.

The result, Block Drops, is transforming West Seattle, one block at a time. 

“We’ve been making a tiny dent, but a dent nonetheless,” said Evelyn.

Her dad, Erik Bell, a designer by day, organizes weekend cleanups on Alki Beach through A Cleaner Alki. He knows community cleanup events are messy affairs in more ways than one — they require mobilizing and organizing a crowd of new volunteers each time, which can be like herding cats in safety vests. 

But the Girl Scouts have pioneered an elegantly simple alternative that can be done multiple times a week with minimal organization and no supervision, relying on the community to grab a trash bag. 

Their Block Drops are DIY cleanups that make it simple for anyone passing by to join in, clean up for as long as the spirit moves them, then move on. The equipment, from pickup sticks to vests and bins, is at the ready; just grab and go. The Block Drop is set up for eight hours, and the girls pick up the accumulated trash later that day.


You can find scheduled Block Drops at byandby.org/block-drops or request one to clean up your favorite piece of West Seattle. The blog name, “By and By,” is taken from the Chinook translation of “Alki.” 

The project, which launched in early July and notched its most recent cleanup Aug. 14 at Lincoln Park, was about two years in the making. Girl Scout awards are much more involved than a merit badge — the girls had to research an issue and create a plan, and each wrote applications supporting their Silver Award.

“This is the highest service project available to that [age] group. You basically find a problem to solve in your community,” Bell said. “You have to jump through a lot of hoops. I think the stat I read was that only about 10% of Girl Scouts go out to earn it.” He estimates the girls logged about 50 hours each on the project.

“We were meeting up every week for months it seemed like,” he said. “These girls were great. We got onto the environment pretty quick, but at first, they were like pie-in-the-sky, ‘We want to stop climate change or save the whales,’ but then we dialed it into something kind of homegrown and doable.”

The inspiration was clear to the girls. “[The trash] is also polluting the waters, which is a home for marine life and the tons of trash in the ocean is destroying that, as well as the Earth, slowly,” Emma said.

The idea behind the model sprouted when Bell left some equipment out during a group cleanup and came back to find a man gearing up. When the man saw Bell approach, he started quickly taking off the vest and leaving. Bell told him he was welcome to stay, but the man said he was too much of an introvert for a group event.


Once the plan was in place, the group approached Seattle Public Utilities, whose Adopt a Street program donated the trash-pickup gear. Public Goods, a local eco-friendly mercantile, helps too, by supplying Block Drop with buckets.

“I assumed we were going to run into a lot of bureaucracy with the city,” said Bell, “but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised” with the team behind Adopt a Street.

“They are just really engaged, really supportive. They were our biggest cheerleaders from the get-go. So that made it really easy for us to lean forward and do this,” he said. “That’s what maybe makes Seattle a little different than some other places.”

Positively NW

The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Writing on the local West Seattle Blog, commenter “Anna” said, “This is so smart! Great idea, Paige, Evelyn and Emma! You’re making our corner of the world a better place and I can’t wait to help.” 

“The most consistent piece we’ve been getting is how easy and approachable it is,” Bell said, “because it isn’t something that has to align with your Saturday schedule.”

Paige said some have expressed concern that if the neighbors take on the cleaning, it will disincentivize the city from doing so, but after some debate, the Scouts decided cleaner streets were worth that risk.   


Reflecting on the project so far, Paige said that “I learned that even if a place doesn’t look as dirty, if you look around, it’s everywhere.”

The three girls make up three-quarters of small but mighty Troop 40149. Caitlin Boyer, the fourth Cadette of the troop, earned her Silver Award separately. Troop 40149 is known as the archery troop. Paige and others built an archery range in Tukwila a couple of years ago for a Bronze Award, and their Halloween tradition is to have a party shooting squishy pumpkins with bows and arrows.

And yes, as longtime Scouts, these girls naturally have strong opinions about Girl Scout Cookies. 

Evelyn pushed for Thin Mints as the most popular, giving it bonus points for being vegan. Paige and Emma put in votes for Caramel deLites (aka Samoas), which Evelyn had to agree were delicious microwaved. Bell, who has assisted on numerous cookie sales, threw in the hot newcomer, Adventurefuls, which take a caramel base, add some fudge brownie and top with chocolate drizzle and sea salt.

For the record, Girl Scouts of the USA ranks the top three sellers nationwide as Thin Mints, Caramel deLites and Peanut Butter Patties (aka Tagalongs). 

In addition to the cookies, Emma enjoys the community of Girl Scouts. 


“It kind of brings people together,” she said. “People who wouldn’t have met become friends.”

The goal for Silver Award projects is to create a sustainable project the community can continue. In this case, Bell’s A Cleaner Alki will take over as the girls shift into high school this fall. 

Right now, the group is averaging four to six Block Drops a week and have had two custom Block Drop requests. The whole team dreams of the project expanding.

“I think that’d be awesome. It’d be great to have a Ballard one or Federal Way one,” Bell said. “Trash isn’t just contained to West Seattle — I know that much.”

His daughter was still thinking bigger. 

“It’d be great for it to be worldwide,” she said. “I mean, probably not, but it’d be great.”  

If more people take initiative like this, it might happen, by and by.