If you look around Santa Barbara this weekend and notice that it seems extra beautiful, you can thank more than 1,000 volunteers who took on service projects around the county for the United Way of Santa Barbara County’s annual Day of Caring.
At the Santa Barbara Zoo, 65 volunteers spent Saturday morning removing invasive plants, picking up litter and mulching plant beds to restore the zoo’s scenic environment.
Tatiana Almedia and Flavio Kubagawa, two Brazillians who have made their home in Santa Barbara, posted up by the giraffe exhibit, where their crew raked leaves and weeded the surrounding grounds.
This is the third year the two have participated in Day of Caring. In past years they have helped with beach cleanups, fixed up assisted living homes, and painted local schools.
“I think this city is so good to us. I think it is a very nice way to give back a little bit. It’s also not an ugly place to be right here, right?” laughed Mr. Kubagawa as he gestured around the picturesque zoo. “It doesn’t quite feel like you’re actually working sometimes. It’s just like your helping, you’re with your friends, you’re having fun. It’s the good feeling that you feel when you’re helping someone.”
They said seeing the way the city improves throughout the day makes the work satisfying.
“It’s funny because we don’t see, we don’t notice. After you clean up you notice how different it looks. You don’t notice at all and after you clean up you see how dirty it was,” said Ms. Almedia.
The 2019 Day of Caring marks the 28th year that United Way has connected thousands of volunteers nationwide with beautification and improvement projects that otherwise might not be completed. In 2018, volunteer hours were estimated to have been worth $300,000 in service to the local community, according to United Way of Santa Barbara County.
Day of Caring is the largest volunteer activity in the Central Coast, and this year, 46 teams completed projects at 50 sites across the county. The teams consist of people heavily involved in United Way year-round, churches, families, and individuals who want to give back to their community.
“It’s a great day for people to come together and help organizations in need,” said Steve Ortiz, CEO and president of United Way of Santa Barbara County.
Those organizations included Angels Bearing Gifts, where volunteers helped with preparations for the holiday season; Washington Elementary School, where volunteers weeded and painted; and Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, where volunteers built tabletops.
“It’s another great success. We always look forward to this event,” Mr. Ortiz said. “Many of the nonprofits look forward to having this event so they can complete many of those projects. It’s usually a slow start with recruitment but towards the end, as we get closer to the event, we get a burst of volunteers coming in and signing up online, so we’re very excited to do this and we’re very excited to celebrate with everyone.”
The zoo is one of the largest Day of Caring sites. Four teams completed eight projects around the grounds, taking advantage of the shade as they laid down sod and prepped areas for gardens from 9a.m. to noon. With such a large group, the volunteers quickly completed work that would have taken zoo staff much longer, said Abel Landeros, the zoo’s facilities director.
“I really appreciate their help, today and every day. We’re here because of the volunteers and they are welcome to come back any time they want to volunteer with us,” Mr. Landeros said.
United Way’s Day of Caring is sponsored by several businesses, both local and corporate, including Cottage Health, Cox Communications, and Exxon Mobil. Albertsons/Vons also sponsored the event and catered an afternoon barbecue for the volunteers at Oak Park.
While Mr. Kubagawa and Ms. Almedia said they hope the Day of Caring will set an example for Santa Barbarans year round.
“People looking at you doing this stuff, I think you make them kind of conscious to it. Try and keep this clean so we don’t have to come here every year,” said Mr. Kubagawa.