This is a chance to give back for all we've been given, to extend our hands out and do the Lord's work. —Gay Ciancia, volunteer
Tens of thousands of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worked their way around California last weekend, flooding the Golden State with sweat, hard work and much-needed service.
"If it seemed like more people worked outside Saturday throughout the Sacramento region," wrote Mark Glover of the Sacramento Bee, "rest assured it wasn't your imagination.
"More than 5,000 members of (the LDS Church) and other volunteers did service throughout the region Saturday, painting curbs, fixing benches, sprucing up playgrounds and pulling weeds," Glover wrote.
According to the Bee, "LDS officials estimated 60,000 church members statewide were doing volunteer work as part of the 'Mormon Helping Hands — Serving Our Communities' day of service."
In Sacramento, 300 volunteers worked together at Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Ancil Hoffman Park to create a children's playground out of fallen tree limbs and stumps.
"There are so many people working here that when I drove up, I thought there must be an event going on here, too," said Sacramento County Supervisor Susan Peters.
Steven B. Taylor, president of the LDS Church's Carmichael California Stake, said the church's efforts were bolstered "by a lot of other volunteers people who just want to be a part of the community effort."
In Fresno, about 1,100 Latter-day Saints "converged on Woodward Park in northeast Fresno on Saturday morning to clean and spruce up the popular picnic and recreation spot," according to the Fresno Bee, which noted that the work done at the park Saturday morning "pencils out to 4,400 worker hours the equivalent of more than two full-time city employees working at the park for a year."
"These types of volunteer efforts are helping the city get through tough and challenging economic times," said Shaun Schaefer, a community recreation supervisor for the city of Fresno.
At Castaic Lake, a fresh-water reservoir for Los Angeles County just north of the city of Santa Clarita, 400 volunteers planted 120 trees and painted eight miles of curbs as well as the lake's helicopter pad and main boat-launch area. According to Castaic Lake official Eric Reifman, the volunteer work will save taxpayers "tens of thousands of tax dollars a serious amount of money."
In Lake Elsinore in western Riverside County, nearly 1,000 Mormon volunteers "spread out across Southwest County on Saturday and tackled a variety of community service projects to show some love to their neighbors," according to Jennifer Kabbany of the Californian.
"This is a chance for us to serve the community," said Temecula resident Jon Billings, an LDS Church member. "That is what this is all about. Making the community a better place, a stronger place. We are just doing what we can."
In the city of Redlands, "emotions and camaraderie ran high throughout the city as an estimated 1,700 volunteers came together for the four-city Helping Hands Community Day of Service," wrote Suze Knobler of Redlands Daily Facts.
"Service and good works are contagious in this community," said Michael Strong, president of the Redlands California LDS Stake. "We can accomplish great things because we have a community that comes together and cares."
Similar Mormon Helping Hands days of service were also held over the weekend in other parts of the country on Saturday. In Florida's Indian River County, for example, the "day of service" idea has been "expanded to become a communitywide project."
Although the annual effort started out as an LDS activity, "this event doesn't just belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," said Rob Volsky, a Latter-day Saint who is Indian River County's Day of Service coordinator. "Other churches have been receptive to service. We find our greatest joy in serving others."
This year, some 200 volunteers in Indian River County came from the LDS Church as well as from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the Baha'i faith, First Presbyterian Church, Our Savior Lutheran Church, St. Helen Catholic Church and Temple Beth Shalom, as well as the various other local civic organizations and service groups.
"This is a chance to give back for all we've been given, to extend our hands out and do the Lord's work," said volunteer Gay Ciancia of Vero Beach.