BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — A group of Baton Rouge-based volunteers meet every week to pick up trash along capital area roadways, and the day before Thanksgiving, they stumbled across a disturbing find.

Jennifer Richardson, the founder of Keep Tiger Town Beautiful says she and her fellow volunteers find all kinds of items discarded along roadways.

But she wasn’t expecting to receive a Wednesday morning phone call from a volunteer who’d stumbled upon a loaded gun.

Richardson described the volunteer as a woman in her 60’s and the epitome of a Southern Belle, as she painted a picture of the awkward and potentially dangerous moment, saying, “She picks up the machine gun and puts it in the trunk of her car, and (after calling Richardson) asks, ‘Did you see what I texted you?'”

Richardson told her, “No, I didn’t.”

Upon learning that the volunteer found a loaded fully automatic machine gun amid debris on the side of I-10 at the Bluebonnet exit ramp, Richardson instructed her to bring it to police officers who happened to be in the area.

Richardson said the officers took the gun out of the volunteer’s car and found that the weapon’s clip had been put in backwards. This meant the gun could not have been fired.

Even so, many would find it chilling to learn that a loaded machine gun was found on the side of the highway.

When asked what this incident brought to mind, Richardson said it was a huge reminder of Baton Rouge’s drug problem and of just how many people struggle with addiction.

She went on to explain that many who suffer from addiction can be found among those who ask for money on street corners.

On that note, she advised, “Do not give money to panhandlers. Give your money to a charitable organization to help these people with addiction so they can get help when they are ready to get help.”

Richardson didn’t always feel this way.

She told BRProud there was a time when she would give money to individuals holding signs at street corners.

But her perspective shifted after an unsettling incident.

Richardson described what happened, saying, “I gave a man money that didn’t have any legs and I drove off thinking, ‘How did that man get in the middle of the median?’… six months later, I saw him sitting on a trash can and he had legs.”

She said she realized she’d been conned. Apparently, the man had been running a scam by attempting to deceive people into thinking he had a particular disability.

Richardson went on to explain that over the years, she’s realized some addiction sufferers become so desperate they run scams to obtain money for drugs.

“This is about addiction, to the point that they’ll (sufferers) do anything,” Richardson said.

She said this is evident based on what Keep Tigertown Beautiful’s volunteers discover on roadsides while cleaning up.

The needles, guns, and other items found on roadsides are a telling indicator of what’s happening in Baton Rouge, Richardson said.

She added, “These individuals steal grocery carts, BBQ pits out of stores, and nothing is going to be done about it until we get tough on crime …people go to jail and next thing you know, they’re back out on the street.”

Her hope is that locals will unite in efforts to stamp out addiction and address the area’s growing drug problem.

In describing her appreciation for the capital area and its potential, she added that there is much room for improvement, and it will take effort to address it successfully.

“We have to ban together,” Richardson concluded.

To view images of the gun and other items discovered during her team’s clean-up efforts, visit Keep Tiger Town Beautiful’s Facebook Page here.