Build Your Project

Materials and Tools

The best way to keep your budget low is by using second-hand and found materials. As a last resort, there’s always Home Depot, Lowes, and other big box stores. However, we suggest you stay local if you can! In fact, you can start in your own neighborhood. Do your neighbors have materials or tools they’d like to contribute or share? Are there dumped materials that you can use like tires and log slabs?

If you’re not able to buy your own tools, there are a few options for you to use. Grow Pittsburgh has a Garden Resource Center which lends tools to individuals, and Pittsburgh Cares has a tool shed which lends tools to Non-Profit organizations.

If you’re greening a vacant lot with Lots to Love, complete this form to request a free dumpster from Budget Dumpster. Their dumpster donation program helps organizations like ours with charitable projects and community beautification efforts. Once your request is approved, they’ll provide you with a convenient waste removal solution.

For a list of organizations that may be able to help supply materials, click here.

Hold a Volunteer Event

If you’ve reached this point in your project, that means you’ve accomplished all of the detailed work of engaging your community, designing a vacant lot, fundraising, and getting permission. You’re now ready for the hands-on, fun part of the project!

As you know, many hands make light work. Many hands also means more neighbors talking to each other, and more residents developing a connection with the places around them. Getting volunteers involved in your project is the single best way to turn a vacant lot project into something that is truly community-driven. As a volunteer leader, your role is to be prepared, caring and positive. The most work will get done if you can create an energetic and fun environment. Remember to lead by example. If you spend a lot of time standing by the snacks rather than getting your hands in the dirt, your volunteers probably will too. Volunteers are valued at $21.94 an hour. Remember that they are cheerleaders for your project, and make sure to show your appreciation.

Step 1: Plan your phases

As you plan for your volunteers, begin by thinking about your project in phases. The first phase involves simply cleaning and greening your lot. Check out the Clean & Green page to learn how. In the second phase, you should be ready to begin building and planting on your lot. How this phase takes shape depends entirely on your design.

Step 2: Find Your Volunteers

There are several different ways that you can communicate to neighbors and community partners about your lot project. In addition to attending community meetings, here are just a few options to consider:

  • Flyers– Announce your project and let people know how to find more information or invite them to participate. Leave flyers in businesses and community anchors like churches, schools and community centers or libraries.
  • Social Media– Social media can be a useful tool to communicate about your project in a tech-savvy neighborhood. Facebook pages are particularly useful in sharing photos or events with others. However, if your neighborhood has an older population or a population without access to Internet, don’t expect to solely rely on social media to communicate about your project.
  • Newsletters– Newsletters can be electronic or can be sent out by mail. Like using social media, it is important to be conscious of who you might be missing by only sending out an electronic newsletter.
  • Door-to-door campaigns– Face-to-face conversation is the best way to get neighbors involved in your project. If you’re uncomfortable just starting a conversation out of the blue, consider making a survey to pass out to your neighbors. See a sample survey attached below in the Templates section.
  • Pop up events– In order to increase awareness around your project, it can be fun to hold a pop up event on your lot. A pop up event can include food and music, and a way for neighbors to share ideas for the lot, like a bulletin board or sticky notes. An event like this may require permission from the property owner, so make sure to plan ahead!
  • Lots to Love Event Calendar – post any volunteer or other events on our calendar, just log in or register and promote your event to our network.

Step 3: Prepare Forms

For safety and liability concerns, it’s a good idea to have some forms ready to go for your event. You can find these sample forms below.

Step 4: Register your project

Go to the Lots to Love map to register an in-progress vacant lot project. Make sure to take lots of photos of your volunteers in action, and upload them to your in-progress vacant lot.

Step 5: Hold a Volunteer Event

  1. Before volunteers arrive: Before your volunteers arrive, make sure you’re on the lot early to set up work stations. Workstations can include a water and snack table, a greeter station with sign-in forms, and a station for gloves and tools. Make sure you review the Emergency Response Plan before volunteers arrive.
  2. When volunteers arrive: When volunteers arrive, make sure to give them a hearty welcome. Have everyone sign in so you have their contact information. Show them your design and get them excited about your project.  Explain the goals of the day and divide the volunteers into groups depending on what they’re interested in doing. Assign one person on each team as the team captain.
  3. During the activity: When everyone gets started working, your job is to float between groups and make sure that everyone has what they need to get the job done. Call out for water breaks now and then to make sure everyone stays hydrated and happy.
  4. Wrapping up: At the end of the volunteer event, ask the volunteers to return tools where they belong. Gather everyone to thank them for their hard work, and let them know of any upcoming opportunities. Once volunteers leave, cross off what you’ve accomplished on your check-list and consider what is remaining to do. Finally, make sure you send out thank-you letters, either electronically or by paper, to your volunteers.