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More than 300 volunteers turn out for United Way Day of Caring

Vince Magnuson and Lynette Swanberg slice bread destined to be made into bread pudding for Saturday’s CHUM Rhubarb Festival at First Lutheran Church on Wednesday morning. The two were among approximately 300 volunteers taking part in the United Way Day of Caring. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 4
Day of Caring volunteers prepare food for Saturday’s CHUM Rhubarb Festival at First Lutheran Church on Wednesday morning. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 4
Day of Caring volunteers prepare food for Saturday’s CHUM Rhubarb Festival at First Lutheran Church on Wednesday morning. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com3 / 4
Day of Caring volunteer Austin Tofte dumps a load of wood chips next to a tree along Superior Street on Wednesday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com4 / 4

More than 300 civic-minded Duluthians spread out across the city Wednesday to volunteer as part of United Way's 20th annual Day of Caring.

Volunteers signed up as individuals or teams to help 27 local nonprofits who requested and received help with their projects, including the city of Duluth, CHUM and the Damiano soup kitchen.

Liz Pawlik, the volunteer center coordinator for United Way of Greater Duluth, said the one-day event gives people a low-commitment way to try out volunteering, something she hopes will turn into longer-term dedication.

"Oftentimes people don't know where to help or where to get started, so I consider Day of Caring a good way to get your feet wet volunteering," she said. "It's a one-day kind of thing, and let's say you have a blast at the agency, then you can continue on after that."

A wide range of volunteer opportunities were available, and there was something for everyone. Groups from U.S. Bank and HTK Marketing Communications spread mulch and pulled weeds at Leif Erickson Park. Meanwhile in the basement of First Lutheran Church volunteers transformed industrial-sized bags of oats into rhubarb crisp.

Todd Fedora, the president of U.S. Bank Duluth, volunteered in the rose garden with a group of employees. Fedora said he enjoyed the opportunity to participate in teambuilding while helping the city.

"We encourage all of our employees to take an active role in volunteering and so when these kinds of opportunities come up that involve teamwork and showing pride in our community we never have a shortage of employees because they'll jump at it," he said.

Geoff Popham, a private banker at U.S. Bank, said his favorite part of Day of Caring is giving back to the city, as well as the environment.

"We've got a wonderful thing here as far as the nature that's right here in town," Popham said. "It's good that we show some respect for that and give back to that."

Day of Caring happens to land just three days before CHUM's Rhubarb Festival, an event that helps raise money for those in need. Volunteers helped CHUM prepare for the festival by making rhubarb juice, crisp, salsa, jam and bread pudding. About a dozen people volunteered with CHUM at two different churches.

Mary Schmitz, CHUM's development director, said the organization counts on Day of Caring to help them get ready for the festival.

"I've always been excited that the United Way Day of Caring is the week of the Rhubarb Festival, because it's a really good way for us to get volunteers to help us," Schmitz said. "It's really nice that through United Way Day of Caring people don't have to take time off work because their company gives them the day to come here and volunteer."

Lynette Swanberg works for the United Way and AFL-CIO partnership program and has been volunteering with Day of Caring for three years. Swanberg worked to cut bread for the bread pudding, and said the day has a long-term impact.

"It's not just a fun day out on London Road," she said. "It also raises awareness about the needs of this community."

Pawlik said one of the most popular events is the picnic put on by the Damiano soup kitchen in its parking lot. The picnic allows volunteers — who work to set up the event and prepare the food — interact with people the organization serves, something Pawlik said United Way encourages.

Sandy Bennett, food service manager for Damiano, said the picnic is an opportunity for clients of the soup kitchen to come together and be part of the community.

"This helps our diners know that they are cared for," she said. "A lot of (diners) will use this as a reunion. I've seen children grow up from babies to being 16 years old now, so it's becoming a family."

Franci Sullivan, who volunteered at Damiano through her employer, Republic Bank, said Day of Caring may encourage others to volunteer over time.

"When you're able to volunteer, even if it's just for a day, it gives the people that you're serving a sense that the community cares," Sullivan said. "If everybody takes a turn one day, then you multiply that out by all the different opportunities that there are, then it gives a sense that many hands make light work."