It seems hard to believe, but last year marked United Way’s 25th Annual Day of Caring. Over the course of those 25 years, our volunteers, numbering in the thousands, have painted hundreds of walls, built community gardens, dug in the dirt at numerous area non-profits, and even worked to modernize and clean up the pet cemetery at the Humane Society. These projects, large and small, have served the community well and many of our local non-profits have benefitted. The volunteers have come from companies across Greater Nashua, as well as many individual community members. To all of those volunteers, I would like to express a heartfelt thank you on behalf of United Way. You have exemplified what we mean when we talk about LIVING UNITED.
But alas, sometimes things need to change. Due to a variety of factors, including challenges with volunteer recruitment and the desire for volunteer activities to be truly meaningful, we are modifying our Day of Caring approach starting this year. Instead of one big event in the fall, we are going to be having four somewhat smaller events, each of which will have a different theme and provide a variety of different ways to get involved. Additionally, we are mixing things up with regards to days and times so that more volunteers can get involved, regardless of their personal schedules. Our hope, through this change, is to make the volunteering more meaningful and to guarantee that the impact is as deeply felt in the community as possible.
The four Days of Caring for this year will be as follows. On April 21, we are focusing on a “Day of Caring about Food Security.” That day is actually 2 events. In the morning, we are partnering with Grow Nashua and St. Joseph Hospital to build Nashua’s first “teaching farm.” The goal of the teaching farm is to teach people sustainable farming practices and help them to become food secure. In the afternoon, we will be at First Church packaging 20,000 meals for distribution to our local food pantries for reserve supplies, especially in the summer months when need is up but donations go way down.
The second event is on May 5th in the early evening and is a “Day of Caring about Early Childhood.” For that event, which is going to be at the Community College, we are planning a Community Baby Shower with a baby boutique full of items for low income new moms and dads. This will include everything from diapers to strollers, and be geared toward helping these families to get off to a great start. There will be a series of classes and demonstrations from local providers and there will be a live demonstration of the Vroom app which can be used to incorporate everyday experiences into teachable baby moments. There will also be a community supper at the event.
The 4th Friday in September will be our third Day of Caring, when we will again be holding “United We Sleep to End Homelessness and Hunger.” This year, the event programming will focus on youth homelessness and human trafficking, both of which are significant and somewhat hidden issues in our community. Participants will again fundraise to participate in the programming, with the proceeds going to our Community Impact fund, which helps fund the work of many local non profits. Participants will sleep overnight in a cardboard box on Amherst Street in front of the Community College. Of course, we realize that nobody will “know” what it’s like to be homeless as a result of this event, but nevertheless we hope for significant and meaningful learning moments. Last year, one participant expressed how difficult it must be to sleep “with one eye open” night after night, and still be expected to function at a high level. These are the kinds of insights we are aiming for with United We Sleep.
Our final event of the year will be late in the fall when we again do a “Shoebox Project” with a Day of Caring for Homebound Seniors. Last year our volunteers collected thousands of items which were transformed into over 200 care packets for homebound, low-income seniors in our community and were distributed, in partnership with the Caregivers and St. Joseph’s Meals on Wheels. The packages included many personal care items such as soaps, perfumes, and lotions which are very difficult for people to afford when the decision is being made “do I pay the electric bill, the rent, or buy food.” This event is a way of us to show our local homebound seniors some love and at the same time help them to get some much-needed items.
We are very excited about this new approach to Day of Caring. United Way is also always glad to help assist our partner agencies with getting volunteers mobilized when there is a specific need as well as helping companies find meaningful volunteer opportunities when they have a desire outside of a Day of Caring. Like all changes, this one might be a little hard at first, especially with 25 years of tradition, but in the end we are hoping that it creates a more impactful way of LIVING UNITED for our volunteers as well as our community. I look forward to seeing many of you at one of our events this year! More information is available on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/UnitedWayGN
Mike Apfelberg is President of the United Way of Greater Nashua.