LOS ANGELES - This Friday through Sunday, thousands of people around the United States are gathering at schools, parks and community centers to help out with Big Sunday, a volunteer effort that started on a Sunday but has expanded to three days every year in early May.
Students and parents will be pitching in at Ramona Elementary School in Los Angeles, removing dead vegetation and beautifying the building. School Principal Guillermo George said a donation from Big Sunday organizers provided $500 for supplies, including plants and paint.
“So we are doing a little bit of gardening, putting in some new plants, and also a cleanup for the school," he said. "And we are also doing a little bit of painting.”
For many in Los Angeles, where the annual volunteer celebration got its start, and in other cities around the country, Big Sunday has become an annual tradition of helping out with community projects.
Hollywood screenwriter David Levinson began the effort in 1999.
“We started as just a single day of service, which was called Big Sunday, and then it became a big weekend of service," he said. "This is the 17th one. But now this weekend is the culmination of a year’s worth of helping, and the kickoff for the next year’s worth of helping.”
Each year on this weekend in May, people find new friends and help their neighborhoods in ways that often continue through the year.
Ana Lopez, Ramona Elementary's volunteer coordinator, said that "parents who have never really interacted, interact today, and from there, they just get to know each other.”
Some volunteers make their contributions at Big Sunday's Los Angeles headquarters, helping to organize projects at sites in more than 100 U.S. towns and cities. They keep records and distribute the T-shirts that identify volunteers, each emblazoned with the words "Big Sunday."
All of those who help are making a contribution, Levinson said.
“Whether it is fixing up a school, whether it is cleaning the beach, whether it is taking a group of veterans horseback riding, we find a way for everybody to find what they are really good at, and their way that they can give back,” he said.
Levinson said the volunteer effort is good for the community, and also for the people who get involved. He said that in a world that is often divided, Big Sunday is a way to bring people in communities together.