United Way Day of Caring makes in person return

After a two year break from in person activities, United Way’s Day of Caring returned on Friday, with more participants than ever before.

Bhavana Varma, President and CEO of United Way KFL&A, says the organization was blown away by the support after a two year absence, last year seeing participating organizations put together food and hygiene kits for donation.

She says the response shows how needed United Way’s Day of Caring is for some of the agencies assisted today.

“Just the way the workplaces have responded and the agencies have responded,” Varma said.

“It’s definitely a need that’s been missed the last two years.”

The initiative pairs up with local organizations and businesses to send volunteer teams to provide assistance on a number of chores the agencies could use help with.

Many of the activities volunteers find themselves doing can consist of relatively straightforward tasks that the agencies being helped often simply lack the manpower and time to get done.

In total, 39 worksites in Kingston received assistance in a variety of tasks like yard work, painting, and the building of sheds and garden beds.

This year United Way saw an unprecedented number of volunteers, 410 people in total from 34 different organizations in Kingston.

Varma said while planning, and unsure how people would respond after a two year absence, the committee thought if over 100 people participate this year would be a success.

Even in their busiest years, Varma says the Day of Caring normally only sees around 200 volunteers, and that this year the United Way even went through a volunteer shirt order expected to last for two years.

Some spaces in Kingston including AMHS, Kingston Youth Shelter, Ryandale, and Martha’s Table had tasks completed by different teams.

Kingston Indigenous Language Nest (KILN) had two teams on hand helping at their recently opened new location on Montreal Street, having a garden shed built by volunteers, as well as seeing their front doors painted and flower beds “spruced up”.

Executive Director of KILN Constance Carriere-Prill said KILN was humbled to be chosen for assistance, and the work done today will help with delivering programming.

“These sheds will be used to store important equipment used in our various land-based programs and community gardens throughout the area, as well as firewood for sacred fires,” Carriere-Prill said.

“Collectively, this helps support not only the work of KILN but that of the broader Indigenous community. We cannot thank United Way and its growing team of volunteers enough for their continued care and support of KILN’s work.”

The day is organized by a volunteer committee that has been working since January to identify projects, recruit teams, and organize equipment and materials.

Chair of the United Way’s Day of Caring Committee, Michele Finney, said the day provides a great opportunity for volunteers to see firsthand what these agencies do for the community.

Finney, now participating in her 22nd Day of Caring, said she’s seen the project grow significantly from having just a few local organizations involved.

She says volunteers are happy to get out for this day and participate in a different type of work than they normally do.

There is definitely labor intensive work, she says, but volunteers enjoy the team environment and feel rewarded by helping these serving agencies.

“The hard work is a good change for them,” Finney said.

She says while the support has grown since she began with the Day of Caring, the number of volunteers this year was unprecedented.

Finney said that some organizations have even begun speaking with some of the agencies they helped out with, looking to provide working hands again with future projects.

The day requires a ton of planning, and logistics is heavy for the teams, but Finney says projects ran smoothly.

“We always think ‘oh my gosh how are we going to get through the day’, and then here we are,” Finney said.

“People figure it out.”

Included in the volunteers this year were a little over 100 members of the Queen’s community.

Jame Ligthart, chair of the Queen’s United Way Committee, was part of a team from the Vice Principal Research Portfolio doing cleanup and painting at the Kingston Youth Shelter Brock Street location.

He said the day just provides a good opportunity to help lend a hand to community agencies.

“It’s always nice to just kind of get out and do what an agency may not have time to deal with because they’ve got other priorities,” Ligthart said

“It just makes their environment that much nicer for them to enjoy… one less thing to worry about really.”

After a morning full of work, volunteers gathered at the Army Navy Airforce Club for a barbecue.

Jane Lapointe, a volunteer today and chair of the United Way’s 2022 campaign, said in touring some of the working groups heard how grateful many of the agencies are.

She said though it can often be easy to feel like you can’t make a difference, projects like this show that people just stepping up for what are simple tasks can really go a long way.

“All we can each be is that pebble in the pond,” Lapointe said.

“It’s easy to feel disillusioned, it’s easy to feel disconnected, but all you have to do is come out for this Day of Caring and pick up a shovel or pick up a rake.”

United Way KFL&A will be kicking off their fundraising drive soon, details about volunteering or donating can be found on their website.

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