If you live in Orange County, you have been affected by something that Sandra Hoke has touched. If it cleans up, pretties up, or makes life a little better for people, then Mrs. Hoke is probably involved.
Sandra Hoke of Orange is someone many people have known for years. A retired Orange teacher, she has tirelessly dedicated her time to many causes, all in the name of Keeping Orange County Beautiful.
Known locally as one of the “Trashy Ladies”, the name is not an insult but a badge of honor, a name Hoke and her group of like-minded ladies gave themselves after having multiple meetings discussing what she calls ‘Orange’s trash issue’.
“Years ago, Sandra Cash and I and a number of ladies decided to meet about trash,” Hoke explained. “So as we were talking I said, ‘you know, all we ever do is talk trash. Maybe we should call ourselves the Trashy Ladies’. Now we are the ‘Trashy Ladies’.”
She and her fellow Trashy Ladies can be seen around Orange cleaning up litter along with other groups during the annual Community Trash-Off, hosted by Shangri La and having just finished its 28th year.
“That’s a very frustrating thing because Orange has a litter problem,” Hoke said. “I don’t know how to change it. For the Trash-Off, I do Martin Street. So the day after (the event), I make a point to drive down it and count the new trash. Last year it was 17 pieces of trash and this year it was eight. So I say, do we call that progress?”
Hoke has lived in Orange for over forty years. She and her husband, Mike, raised two children, have grandchildren, and were married 47 years when he passed away in 2016. Mike, a science teacher for years, had instilled in his students both a love of learning and a respect for their surroundings when he established The Nature Classroom on a private plot of wetlands as part of the West Orange Cove school district. When he retired from teaching, he brought ‘The Nature Classroom’ into the then newly-opened Shangri La Botanical Garden. He became their first executive director, and started the first Community Trash-Off.
After she was widowed, Hoke increased the time she put into her volunteering – no easy feat given all the time she’d already spent throughout the years.
“I couldn’t just sit around feeling sad,” she said. “So I say yes to everything.”
She helped found the Field of Plenty for Orange Christian Services – a community garden that offers fresh produce to those served by the OCS organization. She’s the Secretary of Keep Orange County Beautiful, promoting the beautification of Orange and offering recycling tips. Hoke is also a Master Gardener and oversees the Orange County Master Gardeners Annual Spring Plant Sale.
Hoke’s need to serve was certainly influenced by her husband, and she firmly believes that people are meant to be ‘stewards of the Earth’.
“We didn’t inherit the earth from our grandparents, we’re borrowing it from our grandchildren. Hoke said. “It’s not ours to do with as we want, because we have to pass it on to the next generation.”
Hoke believes that littering, for instance, affects more than just the appearance of a town. It affects the town’s possibilities and pride. But she’s learned that simply picking up trash isn’t the issue. So she and her ‘Trashy Ladies’ set about to see what could be done in ways of prevention or enforcement.
First they spoke to the Orange Police Department about enforcing the anti-littering laws, but were told police had to catch someone in the act of littering. They asked about cameras, much like traffic cameras, to be installed at some of the worst areas for littering, and were told it couldn’t be done.
They then spoke to code enforcement in Orange who told them, ‘If you figure out a way to change the mindset, let me know. I haven’t figured out a way yet’.
“And it truly does have to do with the mindset,” Hoke said. “When I taught at North Early Learning Center, and the 4-year-olds, and I would teach them about how bad it is to throw your trash out the window, how it affects the animals, and the way things look. And one little boy raised his hand and said, ‘Ms. Hoke, when your momma tells you to, you got to.’ That’s sad, isn’t it?”
With no success in preventing littering, and no official recycling program in Orange, Hoke and Cash wanted to form a committee to discuss recycling, and met with Orange City Manager Mike Kunst, to ask if there was a way to get some influential Orange people involved. After being told there was no room for any more committees, they set about attending Commissioners Court, where they discussed “Recyclops”, a recycling company out of Houston, who’d agreed to set up a recycling program if they could get at least 300 people enrolled.
Next, they tried city council meetings, but before they could do the Orange City Council meeting, Kunst told them they couldn’t discuss Recyclops, as it was a “for profit” company, whereas the City of Orange was not. The ladies offered up an idea of putting Recyclops on water bills as a sign-up option, and were met with the same response.
Eventually, Hoke and others got the 300 needed. She even talked her church into joining Recyclops. That would help keep some trash out of the landfills, at least. But it was no easy task, and a year later, only 26 more people have signed on for the program, which at the time charged around $10-$15 per month to come to enrollee’s homes in Orange County, once a week, to pick up recyclable trash.
Hoke remembered her husband, Mike, asking her if she ever got tired of hitting her head against the wall.
“And I said, ‘Well that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up, I’ll just try it a different way’.”
When Hoke was a teacher, she recalled learning that lesson – ‘try a different way’. She grew vegetable gardens for her students, encouraging the kids to pick vegetables and dig in the dirt. She’d hoped to get other teachers’ students involved, but to no avail.
“My kids would walk out there to the garden, they would see the vegetables, might see a ladybug, a worm, and they’d be excited. That’s the best way to learn. And my kids loved picking the beans, digging the potatoes, and we always did something with it. We grew tomatoes and tomatillos, and we would make salsa together. Those 18 kids finished all that salsa, and they had fun making it.”
To this day she has former students who still remember her efforts. If they don’t remember her face, they remember holding a turtle, or picking their first vegetable.
Her next project is working with a company called Retreed. Together with DOW and Keep Orange County Beautiful, the company will bring in 250-300 trees, picked specifically for the southeast Texas climate, to replace those in Orange County lost to hurricanes. Trained volunteers will come in and make sure they’re planted properly, and will check on them in a year.
Sandra Hoke doesn’t know exactly what gave her the passion for all of her community involvement.
“I don’t know if I just started seeing the trash, or the fact my husband had a recycling program when he taught. And then I saw it as we are the stewards of the earth from a Christian standpoint.”
The viewpoint Hoke stands by is found in Genesis 1:28: ‘God gives mankind its first stewardship assignment. It says, And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’.
Or as she sums it up, “This land is precious, this is all we’ve got. You’ve got to take care of it.”
If you are interested in the recycling program in Orange County:
Keep up with Keep Orange County Beautiful at: www.kocb.org