Community-Service Gives Singles Chance To Connect

Daily News
May 3, 2009

Big Sunday A Big Draw Community-Service Event Gives Some Singles Chance To Connect
By Kevin Modesti

NORTH HOLLYWOOD – Few would come right out and say it, but volunteers at some of the “Big Sunday” community-service events across Southern California this weekend were attracted by more than the basic human urge to aid the less fortunate.

The opposite sex may have been part of the draw.

Such was the case at the United Cerebral Palsy Wheels for Humanity warehouse in North Hollywood, where a wheelchair-refurbishing project Saturday morning was billed as a “singles” event, a chance to meet people while you helped people.

Organizer Jill Thomsen succeeded in signing up a well-matched group of eight men and eight women – most in their 20s and 30s – but not before some anxious moments. At midweek, her list included 11 women and only two men.

“When I signed up (online), I put down ‘A. Beckles,’ ” said Andrew Beckles of North Hollywood. “I got an e-mail from Jill asking if I was a guy.’

“I answered, ‘LOL … yes.’ “

Beckles smiled when he was told the event had been in danger of drawing way more women than men.

“That would’ve been more in my favor,” he said.

Beckles, a video librarian, said he joined the wheelchair project because the results of the work would be tangible.

Most others, too, said it was the nature of the volunteer work, not the the allure of the other workers, that got them interested in donating three hours to Wheels for Humanity, a nonprofit company that sends used wheelchairs and other medical equipment to needy people in developing countries.

But Diane Saltzberg, an administrative assistant and screenwriter from Hollywood, did admit (sort of) the “singles” aspect appealed to her.

“I thought I’d make my mother happy and do a singles event,” said Saltzberg, 52. “(But) everybody here’s under 20. It reminds me of a few years ago, when I went to an L.A. River cleanup, thinking I might meet someone. I was surrounded by Boy Scouts. Well, they were single.”

Big Sunday, an 11-year-old annual event founded by Hollywood-based writer David Levinson and now spread over two days, was expected to involve 50,000 volunteers from San Diego to Ventura. Think of it as the All-Star Weekend of altruism, the Kentucky Derby for do-gooders.

More than 500 Big Sunday projects at 300 locations aimed to help 250 organizations. Saturday they included the Meet Each Need With Dignity charity in Pacoima, the Family Rescue Center in Canoga Park, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Burbank, and a San Fernando Valley Quilters Association effort to create quilts for wounded soldiers.

At the Wheels for Humanity warehouse full of hundreds of wheelchairs, jeans- and T-shirt-clad volunteers at five work tables picked up wrenches, steel wool and rags to spruce up some of the 250 chairs intended for a shipment to Indonesia on Friday. Twelve of the volunteers were from Bel-Air Presbyterian Church.

Thomsen, who made sure to have as many men as women, scanned the room, looking for any sign that the scent of WD-40 was acting as an aphrodisiac, for any hint of romantic magic in the air.

An hour into the event, all she saw was earnest people tinkering with wheelchairs.

“I’m not a good judge of magic,” Thomsen said. “In L.A., I think people talking to each other is magic enough.”

(Copyright 2009 The Daily News of Los Angeles)

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[Thanksgiving Stuffing Event] “Our Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without you guys. It warms my heart and replenishes my faith to witness such kindness in action.”

- -A.Z., Los Angeles