On Saturday, Serve Santa Maria began at 8:30 a.m. as volunteers gathered and signed up at the Maldonado Youth Center to enjoy coffee (provided by Starbucks) along with juice and doughnuts. At 9 a.m. there was a short opening and participants picked up water and snacks as they headed to their projects.
“I think between 150-200 volunteers gathered and worked on projects across our community,” said Serve Santa Maria founder Pastor Carl Nielsen, who retired after serving 23 years as pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Santa Maria. One of those projects was painting over graffiti on the Santa Maria Bridge, which was also the very first Serve Santa Maria Project in 2010. Participants used about 40 gallons of paint and got about halfway across the bridge, according to Pastor Nielsen.
During the first Serve Santa Maria Project in 2010, over 200 people showed up on the first day. The city had told Pastor Nielsen prior to the event “if you can even get halfway across we would be delighted” according to Pastor Nielsen. The job was completed in an hour and a half. The original bid the city received for the project was $30,000.
“When you have a lot of volunteers you can accomplish a lot,” said Pastor Nielsen.
Saturday’s other projects included painting a U.S. map on the playground of the YMCA and Miller Elementary School. At the YMCA, volunteers painted the map, a hopscotch and a foursquare court. At Miller Elementary School, volunteers painted the map, four tether ball courts, four foursquare courts, several hopscotches and a trike track.
“We also had quite a bit going on at La Maria Mobile Home Park. About 25 homes were weeded and trimmed. These are things that can get away easily from a senior. It was a tremendous effort out there,” said Pastor Nielsen. Santa Maria’s Mayor, Alice Patino, was one of the first people that showed up this morning, and was seen working at the mobile home park, according to Pastor Nielsen.
“The Rotary Club did tree planting in Rotary Centennial Park. We also had several teams of litter pick-up. It is not very glorious, but it’s essential. They collected bags and bags of litter. It’s so cool to clean-up your community a little bit,” said Pastor Nielsen.
Bedford Enterprises provided two dumpsters at zero cost for the project. One was filled about halfway and a second one more than halfway. The city of Santa Maria waives the fee at the landfill twice a year for the project. Serve Santa Maria usually takes place twice a year, a couple weeks after Easter and again in August.
“The community wins, the residents win, our volunteers win,” said Pastor Nielsen who quoted Luke 10:27: “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
“We did a lot of loving for our neighbors today. It’s been a tremendous, tremendous day,” said Pastor Nilesen.
“In 2009, I took some high school kids to a national youth gathering in New Orleans. I had no idea how devastated the community still was from Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” said Pastor Nielsen. One of the requirements for the youth conference was to spend one day serving the city of New Orleans.
“Thank you, what you all have done in a week’s time, would have taken years to accomplish,” said Clarence Ray Nagin Jr. who served as Mayor of New Orleans from 2002 to 2012, according to Pastor Nielsen.
The event also included a prayer team: “The minute I send out the projects there are people that start praying. There are some who actually visit the project sites and pray for them as well as those who pray from home,” said Pastor Nielsen. “We have many people in the background, many of which I don’t even know about, praying for us. We have never had a reported accident in 22 events.”
“Usually about 15-20 churches participate, which is a pretty good cross section of the faith community. When you get 15-20 churches there is something special going on and I just call it ‘a God thing.’ An amazing collaboration of the faith community, the business community, and city government all working together. When people trust each other, love each other and respect each other you can get a lot done. It’s about joining hands and being together as a community. For us in the faith community, it’s about serving God. It’s an amazing win-win for the community,” said Pastor Nielsen.
Projects included: painting over graffiti under the Santa Maria Bridge, painting the picnic tables at Pioneer Park, painting the Gazebo at Rotary Centennial Park, picking up litter in various locations, coloring a playground at Miller Elementary School, painting the U.S. map at the YMCA, helping Seniors at La Maria Mobile Home Park and the prayer team.