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Thousands of Helping Hands volunteers participate in weekend of service

Published: Friday, May 10 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Mormon Helping Hands volunteers prepare trees for planting.

© 2013 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

As the weather warms, bright yellow vests are coming out in force and joining interfaith groups to clean parks, plant trees, gather goods for food banks and participate in other community service projects.

On April 27, thousands of Helping Hands volunteers in California joined other community members for the statewide Mormon Helping Hands Day of Service. Following Earth Day, many of the projects focused on cleaning local parks.

In Poway, Calif., more than 500 volunteers — half from local LDS congregations — pulled weeds, cleared trails and mulched flower beds near Lake Poway.

“Today we see a lot of reasons for people to be separated because of religion,” Poway organizer Kelly Burt told U~T San Diego. “This is one of those things where you come together, lock arms and you say, ‘Wow, this is wonderful.’ Service brings people of all faiths and all walks of life together.”

Nearly 60,000 people all across California were expected to participate in the day of service, Jeff Allred, a church spokesman, told the Daily Bulletin.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 volunteers gathered in Redlands, Calif., to build a park 25 years in the making. While 120 organizations gathered at the park, many volunteers came from nine local LDS congregations.

In just a few hours, Heritage Park emerged from what had been a mostly empty lot as volunteers erected and painted fences, laid mulch and sod, and cleared pathways.

“It's fun coming with a group of people with a common cause,” Mormon Helping Hands volunteer Elaine Frost told The Press Enterprise.

Volunteers in Texas, Hawaii and Pennsylvania also participated in the day of service. Youths in Texas joined the statewide Texas Trash Off project. Members in Hawaii built community gardens, shelving for a local senior center and a boardwalk for the Forbestown Museum. A small group of Helping Hands volunteers in Pennsylvania cleaned winter debris from a park as part of the church's "Saturday in the Park" program.

The recent projects were not limited to the United States.

As part of an ongoing effort to rebuild Haiti after 2010's devastating earthquake, the LDS Church partnered with Haitian leaders to combat deforestation. On May 1, more than 1,800 members in Haiti celebrated Agriculture Day by planting nearly 25,000 fruit trees donated by the church.

“Members of the church have talked about reforestation as a special project since the earthquake,” said Elder Wilford W. Andersen of the church’s Caribbean area presidency in a press release. “So the convergence of the two interests has come together now at the right time, and this project has taken shape.”

Another 75,000 trees will be donated later this year.

While many of the projects may have been tiring and tedious, local leaders praised the work of volunteers as essential for keeping communities and parks healthy. Scott Hackenburg, center manager for Kings Gap Park in Carlisle, Penn., calculated that each volunteer who participated at the local park provides a $20-an-hour service to the park.

“Think about that," Hachenburg told The Sentinel. "Thirty, 35 people at $20 an hour for three or four hours. That’s close to a staff salary. They’ve just saved us thousands of dollars.”

Mormons Donating 400,000 Trees to Haiti

Thousands of members celebrated Haiti's Agriculture Day by planting nearly 25,000 fruit trees donated by the LDS Church.

Katie Harmer is a journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and writes for Mormon Times. Email: kharmer@deseretnews.com Twitter: @harmerk

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