United Way Day of Caring
On Friday, the clients of charitable organizations saw a facelift: weeded gardens, fresh coats of paint and suds dripping off clean windows.
It’s all thanks to the United Way Day of Caring. In the program, 24 teams comprised of over 200 volunteers spruce up local agencies, donating their time to support community organizations strapped for resources.
According to Bhavana Varma, president and CEO of United Way KFL&A, the day has two benefits: it introduces volunteers to the community and it helps the agencies catch-up on maintenance.
“It helps us put our volunteers in touch directly with some of the programs that are funded through the United Way and organizations running some great not-for-profit program,” she said
“For the not-for-profits and agencies, it’s wonderful because they get work done that they couldn’t otherwise possibly get done. Most not-for-profits work on a shoestring budget and [with] co-ordinating volunteers, stuff like this is always a challenge.”
At St. Vincent de Paul, where volunteers were laying down primer and painting the walls, the service’s executive director Judy Fyfe said it’s her favourite day “besides Christmas.”
A touch-up could make all the difference after a year of wear in a “well-loved” building, according to Fyfe.
“Stuff gets done that we just can’t do,” she said. “We are such a busy agency, [with] numbers going up year after year. We’re struggling to keep ahead of it all. To get a fresh coat of paint, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it really lifts the spirits … of everybody who volunteers here.”
She said it also benefits the clients that call the place “home” and have come in every day for years, picking up basic supplies, food, or simply staying somewhere warm.
The response is always grateful — especially among people living in poverty that feel “invisible.”
“It’s personal. It’s a coat of paint but it is … an acknowledgment that they exist,” she said.
According to Michelle Finney, chair of the Day of Caring, a cleaner look can also make the service a more accessible resource in the community.
“Somebody may look at this and say, ‘well, why are we in there painting? That’s not helping the agency,’” she said.
“[But] it is. The impact that it makes is when the clients come in here; it’s a welcoming environment for them. It looks fresh. It looks clean. It looks new.”
It eases the barriers of visiting community services, she said.
“They’re embarrassed to have to … use this specific agency for food or regular needs we take for granted, like toilet paper or paper towel.” “
Since the first time she participated 18 years ago, the program has grown considerably from its original 9 volunteers.
Local businesses and retailers have increasingly pitched in to provide paint, soil, pressure washers and some extra cash. If not working on the Day of Caring, some volunteers serve meals or even put their business acumen to work and offer financial literacy workshops in a youth shelter.
Meanwhile, volunteers like Sylvia Bigger put their hours in, offering a facelift for agencies in the community in any way they can. At St. Vincent, she couldn’t reach the trim along the walls so she taped a paintbrush to a broomstick.
“A day off of work, right?” she said. “I love working for the community and I love to work with other companies.”
All things considered, “why not?” she said.