ORLANDO, Fla. – As the sun rises over the horizon on a quiet Sunday morning, a group sets up a tent on the shores of Lake Ivanhoe in Downtown Orlando.
The still water and city skyline in the distance create a postcard-like setting.
J.R. Tanghal finds a spot on the walking path to welcome volunteers who are arriving for the monthly Paddle With A Purpose event.
Tanghal is today’s guest host.
“This is about raising awareness that our waterways and lakes are not being taken care of,” Tanghal said. “It’s about spreading the word or doing something good. I think people right now want to do something good.”
Something good this morning involves collecting as much trash as possible from the urban lake. A lake that looks beautiful from a distance but whose shoreline often supports a collection of debris from roadway run-off.
Paddle with a Purpose is a nonprofit founded in 2017 by Robert Figueroa, a New York City native that moved to Fort Lauderdale and quickly realized that there was a pollution problem in our waterways.
Figueroa established “bays” or chapters in Fort Lauderdale, Key West, and in 2019, this one in Orlando.
The idea is to encourage water activities and engage people from all walks of life to volunteer in the conservation and cleanup of our waterways and to spread awareness about the pollution problem in our communities.
“What’s better than being outside and on a lake,” Tanghal said.
The air was still and the lake glassy and smooth, perfect conditions as volunteers paddled out onto the lake in kayaks and paddleboards. Others like the mother-daughter team of Dona and Briona Jones teamed up to walk the shoreline looking for trash within reach.
The couple locked hands and stretched out into the reed grass.
“We were determined for that cup,” Briona Jones laughed. “We had to get it and we knew if we combined our efforts I could lean over and get it and ta-da - clean water.”
The pair traveled from Brevard County after seeing Tanghal’s social media post.
“As soon as he’s involved in doing something we’re on it,” Briona Jones said. ”We’re doing it,” Dona added.
Karen Schafer paddleboards on the lake every weekend and wanted to help out. “We see tons of plastic. Plastic water, bottles, cans, bags. It’s really sad,” Schafer said, adding that she bought a bag with the Paddle With A Purpose logo to support their efforts.
Paddle with Purpose events have collected more than 15-thousand pounds of trash from Florida’s waterways.
Tanghal has been hosting nonprofit events for the last 15 years. Including Make-A-Wish, Hope For More Foundation and Champions For Children. He serves on the boards of the latter two.
“I don’t think people realize the magnitude of what he’s doing,” Briona Jones said. “The amount of money he’s raised for different organizations and foundations.”
Founder, Robert Figueroa, said in an email, “J.R. is an inspiration to us all,” adding, “He brings a welcome excitement and enthusiasm, coupled with a passion to truly give back to Orlando.”
In two hours the group was able to collect double their goal. Bags of trash totaling more than 200 pounds was stacked around one of the park’s trash cans.
“I didn’t expect there to be that much,” Schafer said, explaining how she filled most of her bags by venturing under the I-4 bridge. “Great day. This was really rewarding. The city beautiful, we’re keeping it beautiful. "
Follow the group’s website for more upcoming events.