It’s United Way Suncoast’s Week of Caring — a volunteer effort so impactful it can’t even be contained to seven days. Officially, it coincided with National Volunteer Week — April 18-24. But UWS started early and finished late.
Week of Caring began as Day of Caring in 1992. It shifted this year from October to April to align with Volunteer Month, but the basic premise remained the same. UWS asked its strategic community partners to submit project ideas requiring hands-on engagement, and then matched the projects with corporate partners and individual volunteers.
Employees from Publix store No. 1553 kicked off the effort on April 16 by beautifying the Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida’s Camp Honi Hanta in Bradenton. They set out to add a pop of color to the on-site shower facilities. The volunteers completed the project in record time – leaving a pleasing shade of blue on the walls and a cleaner and safer area for the girls.
On April 19, employees from Sarasota County arrived at Mothers Helping Mothers looking to help sort through donated kids’ clothes. Amid tiny shoes and cute shirts, they found a dose of inspiration in MHM volunteer Mindy Simmons, who explained she volunteers now because the nonprofit helped her as a single mom years ago.
Week of Caring also gave the Homeless Empowerment Program in Clearwater a chance to show how much they care for volunteers. On April 19, they welcomed volunteers on site for the first time in a year. The program’s dining room was still closed because of the pandemic, but they were able to serve meals through a takeaway window. Volunteers helped their food assistance team in preparing meals for the program’s residents and food insecure families who reside in the neighborhood.
Bess The Book Bus founder and operator, Jennifer Frances, helped United Way Suncoast extend Week of Caring on April 20 with a three-hour book fair at Seminole Heights Elementary in Tampa. UWS team members Kari Goetz and Ernest Hooper joined volunteers to help the kids sort through an array of books including Star Wars and Disney titles, informative animal books, and classics like Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and The Motorcycle. Ernest and Kari were particularly pleased when one of the students finally nabbed one of their favorites, Walter the Farting Dog.
Other volunteer efforts included planting flowers at Franciscan Center’s butterfly garden, preparing weekend food bags for students at United Food Bank, and cleaning up statues and landscaping at Veteran’s Memorial Park.
Week of Caring wrapped up in Arcadia on April 24 with United Way staffers grabbing paint buckets and brushes to beautify the inside of The Learning Tree Pre-K school. United Way Suncoast’s Quality Childcare Initiative supports childcare centers in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties, and Week of Caring proved to be the perfect backdrop for boosting that effort.
Altogether, 426 volunteers completed 71 projects across five counties for a total of 1,286 hours volunteered.
Of course, as ABC Action News reporter Sean Daly noted, the aim must be turning the Week of Caring into a Year of Caring. As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, it has never been more important to reinvigorate volunteering across the region.