CEDAR RAPIDS — Painting, packing, landscaping and cleaning efforts got underway across Cedar Rapids Thursday morning as thousands of volunteers took part in United Way of East Central Iowa’s annual Day of Caring.
The event, coordinated by United Ways across the nation each May, is meant to encourage area businesses to allow employees to spend time volunteering to assist not-for-profit organizations.
This year, more than 1,260 volunteers — most dressed in green “Day of Caring” T-shirts — turned out to lend a hand in Cedar Rapids, said Sue Driscoll, manager of volunteer engagement for the United Way of East Central Iowa.
“There are 105 different projects throughout the community and there are 39 organizations benefiting from the work,” said Driscoll, adding employees from 51 companies signed up to take part.
Among them was a group from Van Meter Inc. who spent the day in downtown Cedar Rapids removing the Downtown Farmers’ Market vendor booth numbers spray painted on the curbs.
Wearing blue, rubber gloves and with scrapers and buckets in hand, Jason Alt, Lauren Shovein, Sabryna Scheidt, Charol Steinford, Todd Knebel and Whitney Pino said they had removed about 100 numbers using a combination of brick, stone and masonry graffiti remover and plenty of elbow grease.
“It’s tedious,” said Shovein. “Normally, two guys from the city did it all.”
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Shovein said Van Meter’s Day of Caring participation fits into the company’s 5-P strategy that puts a focus on people, partners, progress, place and profit. About 15 Van Meter employees total took part in this year’s volunteer effort.
“This is all about place — the community,” Shovein said. “What better way to make our community a better place than to get out on a beautiful day and give back.”
About 45 Alliant Energy employees also volunteered Thursday, splitting their time at The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and Waypoint Services, said Leah Rodenberg, senior community affairs program manager with Alliant Energy. Ten of the employees spent the morning at Waypoint, 318 Fifth St. SE, planting flowers in outdoor planters and filling hygiene kits for the organization’s clients.
Brittany Appleton, services event and volunteer coordinator at Waypoint, said the organization hands out hygiene kits filled with supplies like shampoo, toothbrushes, soap and toothpaste to clients throughout the year. She estimated more than 400 hygiene kits are handed out per month.
Through a donation of $1,000 from Alliant Energy, Rodenberg said employees were able to purchase and make about 120 kits Thursday.
Appleton said Waypoint has been working with Day of Caring volunteers for decades.
“(Day of Caring) is a great way to expose our employees to organizations and the services they offer,” Rodenberg said.
The hallways and day care spaces at the Arc of East Central Iowa received a fresh coat of paint on Thursday, thanks to 26 volunteers from Transamerica and Cosmetic Solutions. Volunteers also helped to rehabilitate the landscaping around the facility at 680 Second St. SE.
Lexi Coberly, event and mission outreach coordinator at the Arc, said the interior of the building hadn’t been painted since the 2008 flood.
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Hiring a company to paint would have cost thousands of dollars, she said. The Arc has day care and respite care for individuals with disabilities seven days a week, making it difficult to find a time for a company to paint. Without the volunteers, Coberly said the building could have gone a few more years with faded paint.
“We wanted to make it lighter, brighter, cheerier,” she said. “We work with people with disabilities. (Day of Caring) is a huge resource for us. It saves us not just the time, but saves us the money and energy so we can focus on our mission.”
Pam Thys, a Transamerica employee volunteering at the Arc, said she is grateful her company supports Day of Caring. She said most of the employees in her IT team were able to participate, including one co-worker whose children benefit from the Arc’s services.
“It’s good that the different companies in town support it by giving us this day to do it,” Thys said. “It motivates people more.”
Still time to donate
As part of the 2017 Day of Caring, the United Way’s Young Leaders Society is hosting a Community-Wide Book Drive to help collect and distribute books to low-income children in the community. Those with children’s books to donate can drop them off at the United Way of East Central Iowa office at 317 Seventh Ave. SE, Suite 401, Cedar Rapids.