LUMBERTON — Inclement weather didn’t stop more than 50 volunteers from coming out Friday to participate in the Lumber River United Way’s 2021 Day of Caring.
The volunteer-driven event started without a hitch Friday morning at Lumberton Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac despite the heavy rain and hail that greeted the early morning hours.
“We had hope and it did pass over, and I thank God for the turnout that we had,” said Tomeika Munn, director of Community Impact for Lumber River United Way. “After all the hail and all the rain, I was surprised to see that many people still have dedication to want to go out into the community.”
Day of Caring is an event that brings volunteers together to participate in a series of community service projects that better Robeson County. Last year’s event was cancelled because of COVID-19.
“It’s always reassuring to know that there’s so many people who want to take part in helping out with the community, and have invested interest in making sure the area and our community is clean and picked up, said Lisa Bedell, Lumber River United Way board of directors president.
Bedell said it shows that the community is “willing to sacrifice their efforts to come out and help to make the area prettier and cleaner, and just better in general.”
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center held its Knit-In event for the 11th year. During the event, volunteers knit hats, scarves, and burp cloths for babies, cancer patients, the military and the homeless.
Although the 2020 Day of Caring was cancelled, the Cooperative Extension still held the Knit-In virtually, and the knitters have created more than 1,500 items to date, said Shea Ann DeJarnette, one of the Knit-In’s organizers.
“People just walk in off the street with beautiful things to donate,” DeJarnette said.
This year, participants knitted “soap sacks,” which are cotton soap holders that double as wash cloths, to give to homeless shelters and other congregant living organizations.
“We got a lot of really neat items with a lot of love in them,” DeJarnette said.
It was Anita Cunningham’s first time knitting, but she didn’t hesitate to help her community.
“I always feel good when I give back to my community and anything that I can do, any small way I can make a difference, I’m up for that all the time,” the volunteer said.
As the skies cleared, volunteers dispersed to several outdoor projects throughout Lumberton, including helping employees clean the Robeson County Humane Society’s facilities.
Animals are a “passion” for volunteer Karen Combs, which is why she chose to help out at the Humane Society.
“I would ‘bout do anything (to help animals),” Combs said. “It just makes me feel so much better.”
Volunteers are always needed at the shelter, and the ones that came helped lighten the burden on employees, said Divinity Morgan, director of the Humane Society’s shelter.
“We are very, very in need of volunteers to help us on a daily bases and keep us in order,” Morgan said. “We’re very, very thankful for the help that we can get. When they show up, we’re able to do extra things besides what our daily activities consist of.”
Day of Caring volunteers were seen cleaning a 3-mile stretch of N.C. 711, a highway United Way adopted in 2020 as part of the Adopt-A-Highway program.
“I think it’s a terrific opportunity to come out and pick up trash,” said Kathy Hansen, a member of the United Way board of directors. “Because of the coronavirus we haven’t been able to get out and clean. This is one of the projects that United Way took on, and I think it’s important.”
“It’s something that we should all be doing for our community,” volunteer Juanita Davist said.
Volunteers also loaned their skills to painting the Community In Schools and Lumber River United Way kitchen cabinets, using materials donated by Lowe’s.
When BB&T employee Summer Shelley heard about the volunteer opportunity to paint, she jumped on board.
“There’s not a lot of things to do to help out around here, so when there’s an opportunity I try to help,” Shelley said. “This is the first time I’ve heard about something like this.”
Lowe’s also donated new flooring for the kitchen, which will be installed at a later date.
Participants also lent a hand cleaning county and city parks and installing a Born Learning Trail at the Northeast Park.
In addition to the volunteers, small businesses, large operations and municipalities showed support in some way, said Tate Johnson, Lumber River United Way’s executive director.
Cakes and Pastries, Panera Bread and Fresh Foods IGA provided breakfast for volunteers. Beasley Media Group shared the event over the airwaves, and Sign City Printing printed this year’s Day of Caring T-Shirts.
Campbell’s Soup donated 1,400 pounds of canned goods for the Stuff a Truck. The drive allows donors to donate as much canned goods that can fit into a truck trailer for delivery to the Robeson County Church and Community Center.
Volunteer opportunities like the door-to-door smoke alarm installations did not return this year because of COVID-19, but representatives from the American Red Cross came out to give support and share fire safety information.
“United Way is able to mobilize the community and bring the community together, and we wanted to support that,” said Phillip Harris, executive director of the Sandhills Chapter of the American Red Cross. “It’s a great to have our community come together. The power of volunteers is what the Red Cross is built on and the United Way helps us with that.”
Johnson estimated at the top of the event that 320 hours of volunteering services would be completed, totaling more than $8,000 in community impact.