Volunteers spread caring around community

When the call went out for volunteers, 13 students in Megan McCoy’s fifth-grade class at Lake Steven’s Highland Elementary School raised their hands.

Their assignment: to go to nearby Sherwood Community Services, which serves physically and developmentally disabled children and adults, on Saturday.

They’ll help clean toys, clean up play areas and maybe even put a little spit and polish to the building’s windows.

The students are part of United Way’s Day of Caring, a two-day volunteer effort throughout Snohomish County. More than 1,000 people will participate in the event, which kicks off today.

The 80 projects the volunteers will undertake include painting at homeless shelters; cleaning up parks, beaches and streams; gardening; and improving playgrounds.

Although the annual volunteer effort is now in its 15th year, this is the first time it has been expanded to two days.

The weekend day was added to allow students, workers and others to participate who can’t help out during the week, said Deborah Squires, spokeswoman for United Way of Snohomish County.

McCoy, the Highland Elementary School teacher, said that her students were interested in volunteering at an organization that many of her students had heard about.

“It was the prefect place to get involved to serve their community,” she said.

The students will be joined by groups of adults installing a drain culvert, putting up shelving, and painting and waxing floors at Sherwood.

“I’m incredibly excited that they’re coming,” said Katie Lynn Markham, office manager at the Lake Stevens nonprofit.

When volunteers in previous years have finished their projects “it’s like a brand new, sparkling facility,” she said.

One of the most unusual projects will take place in Monroe on Saturday. Volunteers will help Valley General Hospital staff preparing for a flu pandemic.

Some volunteers will play act the role of being ill, others will take the role of the “worried well,” patients afraid that they might be sick, said Carolyn Jordan, the hospital’s emergency preparedness coordinator.

The hospital will use meetings rooms and a lobby for the drill, just as they might if a flu pandemic strikes, to keep flu patients separated from other hospital patients.

“Our concern is going to be the large number of walk-in patients,” Jordan said, which is what the drill will simulate.

The one-day projects sometimes are the springboard for continuing interest in volunteering, Squires said.

“People try a Day of Caring and say ‘I want to come back once a month.’ People use this day to find a place to plug in, and sometimes it just takes off from there.”

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