She’s a retired state worker, but Debra Unruh is making a quiet difference almost every day as she walks around the Miller Creek Road area picking up trash and offering a smile to passing drivers.

KGVO News stopped on Wednesday to visit Debra, clad in her orange safety vest, and asked how she started her unofficial clean-up project in the neighborhood.

“Well, I was out walking, and walking is really important for exercise,” began Unruh. “I just noticed all the garbage on the roadside, and I thought ‘I can pick that up’, and so I just grabbed some grocery sacks and started doing that. It’s a dual purpose. I'm cleaning up the roadside, plus getting my exercise, so it's a wonderful thing.”

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Many, like this reporter, are curious to find out who Debra works for, most assuming she’s a city employee, but not so.

“Once some children walked up and asked, ‘who do you work for’? I told them I was just doing this on my own volition,” she said. “Most, I'd say 99.9 percent of the people have been positive. Even this morning as I came up St. Thomas Drive, a woman stopped and visited and thanked me for doing this. I'm just participating in being part of Missoula and giving back to the community. So I feed the dogs. I have little dog biscuits and those pups that had once been kind of aggressive, are no longer aggressive. They wait for me because they know they're going to get a treat. So it is a treat (she laughed).”

Just how much roadside litter has Debra Unruh picked up in her almost two years of volunteering?

“Last year, for the total year of 2021, and then, of course, I continued this year, so I've been doing this for about a year and a half,” she said. “Last year I picked over 1,000 grocery sacks of garbage. I started picking up cans and giving that aluminum to the (Missoula) Food Bank for the fundraiser that they do through Pacific Recycling.”

KGVO asked Unruh if her efforts are making a difference in the amount of trash tossed out of vehicles on Miller Creek Road, and she said yes.

“I think there's less garbage, and I think the reason for that is because people see me out here,” she said. “I don't do it every day. I feel fortunate if I can get out three times a week. But people see me and they think I'm out here all the time. I think because they see me out here, I think they're doing less littering. So that's my belief.”

So when you’re driving up or down Miller Creek Road and see a lovely lady in an orange vest picking up trash, it’s Debra Unruh, and she’s making a difference, so honk and give her a wave and see that lovely smile.

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