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Meet the Sooke man beautifying his municipality’s streets

Despite multiple brain surgeries, he has been regularly cleaning litter off the streets of Sooke and inspiring others to do the same since 2009

By Emily Vance
October 7, 2022
Environment
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Meet the Sooke man beautifying his municipality’s streets

Despite multiple brain surgeries, he has been regularly cleaning litter off the streets of Sooke and inspiring others to do the same since 2009

By Emily Vance
Oct 7, 2022
[email protected]
Environment
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Meet the Sooke man beautifying his municipality’s streets

Despite multiple brain surgeries, he has been regularly cleaning litter off the streets of Sooke and inspiring others to do the same since 2009

By Emily Vance
October 7, 2022
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Meet the Sooke man beautifying his municipality’s streets

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Every Sunday morning, rain or shine, Koshin - Sifu Moonfist (his adopted Buddhist name) can be found picking up litter in the community of Sooke. It’s a tradition he’s carried on in various forms since 2009, two years after moving to the oceanside community to retire. Despite multiple health issues, including several brain surgeries and a broken ankle, Moonfist has been steadfast in his mission.

He first got the idea to start picking up trash from a letter in the local newspaper. A woman had written in to raise attention about loose nails and screws on the road that were causing flat tires. Moonfist decided to investigate further, walking from his home near Cooper Cove to the centre of Sooke, keeping his eyes peeled on the ground. On that walk, he said he picked up 39 nails and screws. That was the beginning of what would become a years-long journey.

“When you start doing something like this, when you’re out and about and you’re not doing it, you notice it more,” Moonfist said. “Now every time I’m walking and talking with a friend, I don’t even have to be looking at the ground consciously. All of a sudden, I see a nail or a screw, and I stop.” 

When he first began to pick up litter in Sooke, Moonfist would comb a 21 km stretch of Highway 14, starting on Kangaroo Road in Metchosin and ending on Grant Road. Occasionally, he’d continue on and go through Shirley to French Beach, or at times as far as China Beach. These days, he focuses on the core area of Sooke. 

He finds cigarette butts, fast food wrappers, and beer cans. In more secluded areas like under bridges, he’s found syringes and condoms and “everything you can imagine.” The type of litter also changes to reflect the times, especially during the pandemic. “The amount of masks that were on the ground were huge. Every time I went out, I’d pick up 15 or 20 masks,” Moonfist said.

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The number of masks has reduced recently as masks have faded from public life, but Moonfist said that in the long-term, he’s also noticed a reduction in littering overall.

“The general population has been a lot tidier,” Moonfist said. “So it’s a lot of polish on something that’s already beautiful.”

For years, the quest was mostly a personal one done for the love of the community. These days, he’s joined by a handful of volunteers. Since March 2021, Moonfist has been organizing community cleanups through a group he calls the Sooke Moon Community Wellness Society. The group meets up every Sunday at Sooke Elementary from 8:30-10:30am. 

Though the turnout of other volunteers is often very small, Sooke resident Kate Woods is a regular at these events.

“She is the single most dedicated–other than me–person that I’ve met in years when it comes to doing anything for tidying the community,” Moonfist said.

Woods got involved with Tidy Sooke in 2021. She said that the litter around town had always bothered her, and when she found out about the initiative, she thought it was the perfect opportunity to give back. She’s also been inspired by Moonfist, and said he is one of the big reasons she keeps coming back.

“He has struggled his whole life with health issues, but instead of giving up, as many people would have, he has been out, making Sooke a better place, whenever his health permits,” Woods said.

Moonfist began organizing the community cleanups just over a year after his latest brain surgery. He lives with epilepsy, and has undergone several brain surgeries since his retirement. His last surgery was in January 2021. In the past, the Sooke community has rallied behind him and his wife, Maggie, to help fundraise for the associated costs of his medical treatment. 

Since then, he’s stopped having seizures, and said the latest surgery was the most successful one to date. It was shortly after that that he began to organize community cleanups. Despite all that, and a broken ankle in mid-2021, he’s stayed committed to the cause. He’s “beyond grateful” for the support of his wife Maggie, who has taken care of him through it all. He says he hasn’t missed a single cleanup.

Moonfist’s work has been recognized by the District of Sooke. Jessica Boquist, Parks and Environmental Services Coordinator with District, said in an emailed statement that Moonfist’s work “has galvanized a community movement.”

“He has inspired numerous earth day events, beach clean-ups, and a small but mighty group of citizens who collect litter almost every single Sunday—come heat wave or rain. He has truly shown our community the meaning of selflessness and service,” Boquist said.

He’s also drawn praise from incumbent mayor and mayoral candidate Maja Tait.

As for his plans for the future, Moonfist said he will continue to stay true to his mission of beautifying the community. He’s also active in a number of community groups, including Transition Sooke, the Sooke Lions, and the Sooke Multi-Belief Initiative. 

“I think that the single biggest difference is that it can show the community how much I care,” Moonfist said. “I love Sooke, and I look forward to it continuing to grow.”

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