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Volunteers Help Schools and Organizations Hit By Recession

Tens of thousands of people across California spent the past weekend cleaning, fixing, and painting. The three day volunteer event called Big Sunday has been held every year since 1999. But many Californians say there was an even greater need for volunteers this year because of the economic recession. Our reporter visited some work sites in Los Angeles to find out how the event is helping local communities.

The work is hard, but the feeling of satisfaction is great for volunteers like Zach Bradshaw.

“It makes me feel really good, especially there are so many people where who are volunteering," said Bradshaw.

Church groups, families, and individuals from across Los Angeles arrived early to take part in what’s called “Big Sunday,” the largest regional community-service event in the United States. The goal here: to transform Logan Elementary School in one day.

“I was just thrilled and excited for the community especially because we’re going through very difficult economic times and we don’t have the manpower to do a lot of the stuff that’s being done," said Luis Ochoa.

Logan Elementary Principal Luis Ochoa says because of the economy over the past several years, teachers and other staff members have had to be laid off.

“Two years ago we had two custodial personnel now we only have one. We have a cleaning crew that comes in the evening just to clean the restrooms," he said. "So that’s how bad the situation is currently.”

But volunteers are filling the gap, here, and in more than 500 other job sites across the state. It may be called Big Sunday, but it has grown into a three-day volunteer event.

David Levinson started Big Sunday 12 years ago with only 300 people. But the number of volunteers has exploded over time.

“We have volunteers who are homeless people, we have volunteers who are movie stars, and everyone is treated the same and valued the same," said Levinson.

More than 50,000 people are volunteering across the state of California to help schools and non-profit organizations at a time when they need an extra hand.

And those extra hands are very much needed at another work site more than 20 kilometers away, in the town of Venice.

This is a free clinic for families who live in poverty. Its volunteer organizer Ingrid Trejo says this is where all the patients’ records are kept.

“We’ve had this property since 1995 and it was in a state of disrepair," said Trejo. "We had a lot of debris back here. We also had trespassers, It was a very unpleasant area.”

With the bad economy making it harder to get funding, Trejo says it would have taken years to remodel this space without Big Sunday volunteers.

“There’s no way we would have been able to get it done in one weekend," she said.

There will be diabetes workshops, yoga classes and other events for patients and staff in the clinic’s new outdoor space. And back at Logan Elementary school, principal Luis Ochoa says a better environment will lead to more focused and successful students.

“If the school is clean [if] the school is beautiful that they feel welcoming they feel that they want to come to school every day," he said.

Even though some people may only have time to help in a big event like this once a year, Big Sunday organizers say there are opportunities almost every day of the week, for anyone who has the time, energy and desire to help.