The arrival of spring heralds the coming of the annual Community Care Day in Union County.
This year's event will be held May 20, and the United Way of Union County is already accepting project requests and volunteer sign-ups.
The event, in its 18th year, sends volunteers into the community to complete service projects such as helping elderly residents do spring cleaning, landscaping area parks and conducting food drives.
This year, organizers are using a new online registration process at unitedwayofunioncounty.org/commcare.php.
The goal is to make planning the event more efficient. Volunteers are asked to pre-register online by May 2.
Also this year, all volunteer groups will be asked to submit their participants' names and contact information in advance. According to a United Way news release, volunteers will be able to select projects online and get necessary instructions as of April 11.
Shari Marsh, executive director of the United Way of Union County, said the first Community Care Day was held in September 1997 to start the nonprofit's annual fundraising campaign.
"This event was selected to give current and potential donors a volunteer opportunity to work with some of our partner agencies and the people that they serve," Marsh said in an email interview.
For the last several years, Community Care Day has been a separate event because it has grown in both volunteers and projects, she said.
"The goal for each Community Care Day is twofold: to provide volunteers with a quality volunteer experience that allows them to help others in a 'hands-on' way and to provide a service to residents who need some assistance and/or to other community partners that may impact (a) larger part of the population," said Marsh.
On May 20, volunteers will meet for breakfast and instructions at St. John's Lutheran School, then head out in groups of two to 20 people to complete service projects.
Last year, 702 volunteers from 78 area workplaces, schools, churches and civic organizations worked on 319 projects.
Marsh said one of the most memorable Community Care Days occurred in September 2001, the same week as the 9/11 attacks.
"The focus of the day shifted from a United Way kickoff event to, really, a visiting and listening time for the volunteers who were working with senior citizens," she said.
The events reminded many seniors of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"So during the morning gathering of volunteers, the U.S. flag took center stage and the volunteers were told that while they may be going to a project to do some housework, lawn work, etc., their most important role would be to visit with the recipient and listen to them," Marsh said.
She recalled the story of a local pastor who was volunteering at the home of a World War II veteran, who lived alone with his dog. As the pastor completed chores, the veteran followed him and talked. The pastor was moved to go back to the man's home after a lunch break to do more work and more listening.
"Because of this, we do encourage the Community Care Day volunteers who are working in people's homes to take the time to visit as well as performing the tasks requested," Marsh said.
Project requests must be submitted online by April 4. They can be made by social service agencies, government and park entities or individuals who need help. Projects should benefit either an individual who does not have the means to complete the work or a social service or community-based organization. They should be within the United Way of Union County service area.