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He filled his COVID downtime by filling bag after bag, cleaning up the city

"It gave me purpose, a purpose to get out, and it was my therapy."

This is one of a series of articles, as part of the feature called "Helpers", which focuses on people and organizations that help make our community better.

This time we talk with long-time community volunteer Ralph Celentano.

When COVID 19 hit the city and we experienced the shut-down, the hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit. And since Celentano works as the Director of Sales at Homewood Suites by Hilton in North Bay, he was one of the folks left with uncertainty and looking to fill time.

It didn't take the 60-year-old long to find a way to stay active and continue with his habit of helping the city. Rather than sit at home, Celentano started aiming for daily walks of an hour or two, usually with his dog Sprocket.

Seeing litter along his walking routes bothered him and he just started to turn his daily walks into clean up adventures as well.

"I thought 'this is easy', I'm out, I'm getting two hours of fresh air, and cleaning up what shouldn't be there. Offenders will do what offenders will do. we may never stop them completely, but we can address it and do the clean up so the rest of us - the majority of us - can enjoy our beautiful city more," he says.

"It gave me purpose, a purpose to get out, and it was my therapy," Celentano adds.

He started getting his empty bags from the local volunteer group Clean Green Beautiful North Bay. After a while, he posted some photos on social media, of the full bags at the end of his walks. That brought out other volunteers who joined him on his exercise and spring-cleaning efforts.

Eventually, spring turned to summer, and instead of bundling up for the treks, Celentano donned a sun hat and made sure he stayed hydrated.

So how much litter have he and sidekick Sprocket cleaned up in his neighbourhood (in the Devonshire and Dudley Street area) and eventually in other parts of the city?

Celentano hasn't kept an official count but estimates a minimum of 4 bags a week being filled up, often more. Looking at how long he's been at it, you could conservatively estimate he's filled close to100 bags of illegally dumped litter and garbage.

This isn't his first time giving back to the community - he's been volunteering most of his life.

"It's in my DNA. I learned from my parents. My mom raised seven kids but still volunteered with the Catholic Women's League. My dad served as a Catholic School Trustee and made time to help build the Davedi Club and the Granite Club. Now, volunteering is in my nature," says Celentano.

Other places you may have seen him making a difference include The Kiwanis Music Festival, reviving the ski hill as Jack Pine Hill in the '90s, and bringing the Million Dollar Hole-in-One fundraiser to the community.

Most recently he has been busy serving as the President of the Kiwanis Club of Nipissing. He was also happy to act as the Committee Chair for the Kiwanis Walk of Fame efforts, including the dinner celebration last November. He was also club president when the ground was broken on the new Kiwanis Lee Park Playground.

As we adapt to the pandemic, business has returned to the hospitality industry, and Celentano is back working as the Sales Director at Homewood Suites. He's still fitting in walks with Sprocket, and still cleaning along the way.