Big Sunday Stretches Across L.A.

Los Angeles Times
May 8, 2006

Big Sunday Stretches Across L.A.

The area-wide effort draws 25,000 volunteers who wash cars, plant gardens, paint schools and clean up parks to help the community

By Carla Rivera and Stephen Clark

Beginning at dawn Sunday, thousands of residents set out from their homes to breach Los Angeles’ often rigid geographic and economic boundaries:

A neighborhood in Rolling Hills Estates was host to Los Compadres, a South Bay mother-son community group that held a garage sale to raise money for a Long Beach homeless shelter.

Two students from a high school near Bel-Air showed up to paint the home of a stranger, 81-year-old Hatsuye Yotsuya of West Los Angeles.

A group of naturalists converged on MacArthur Park in the city’s crowded urban core to help spruce up the tattered but grand old landmark. While they were at it, others held an education fair with booths offering free health screening and information about tenants’ rights.

These were but a glimpse of the hundreds of activities that attracted up to 25,000 volunteers of all ages across Los Angeles County and beyond to paint schools, plant trees, clear trash and deliver food to the elderly in countless acts of neighborly kindness. What was begun in 1999 by Hollywood writer David Levinson as a way to do some good with members of his synagogue, has turned into Big Sunday, drawing corporate sponsors, a $650,000 budget and the participation of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Volunteers were asked to do just one thing: share their time and sense of community.

Levinson marveled Sunday at how much the event has grown.

“I like the fact that it’s not a response to a natural or man- made disaster,” he said. “It’s just a day to get together and just do it.

“We should be doing this all the time to remind us how lucky we are,” he added, “and to build the community.”

Events unfolded at daybreak with spay and neuter clinics at several locations and ended with parties, food and music at Lincoln Park, Venice Beach and other spots.

In all, about 230 activities were scheduled, stretching from Sunland to Santa Ana, Arcadia to Malibu.

At Reseda Recreation Center, more than 50 students from Hyde Park Elementary School sorted and packed clothes for the needy and decorated pots that were sent to a senior center.

About 200 other students volunteered at seven other sites. Kendis Wilbourne, a school counselor said that Big Sunday volunteers had helped them the last two years by beautifying their school. “This year, we wanted to give back,” she said.

On a quiet West Los Angeles street, Yotsuya got an early Mother’s Day gift when volunteers put a fresh coat of paint on the home she has lived in since 1952. The project was sponsored by the Los Angeles Handy Workers program, which helps low-income seniors and disabled people maintain their homes. Members of the Venice Community Housing Corp. and others set about transforming Yotsuya’s grimy bluish-gray home and garage into sand-colored showpieces to complement her neat flower garden.

Among the volunteers were Ben Zimmerman and Asher Vollmer, both 16, who had heard about Big Sunday at Milken Community High School, where they are sophomores.

“In school, I work with the tech theater where we build sets for plays, and I thought this seemed like it would be the same kind of stuff, something where they could use our help,” Ben said.

His father, Ely Zimmerman of Beverly Hills, joined the boys because he thought it would be fun. “I think they’re learning something that’s important and valuable and that is to contribute their time and energy to the community,” said Zimmerman, whose family moved to Los Angeles last summer after living in Israel and Seattle. “It’s nice to participate and learn about a new area.”

For Yotsuya, it was wish come true.

“Everybody is working so hard and I’m very appreciative today,” she said. “I open the door and look up and, oh my goodness, it looks so nice. I’m so glad.”

Hundreds of volunteers converged at Temple Israel of Hollywood, where the event originated, participating in about 15 projects, including cooking meals; knitting booties; sewing clothes; decorating cookies; and sorting and packing clothes, books, furniture, goods and supplies for delivery service organizations, schools and Big Sunday projects.

Near the intersection of 3rd and Alvarado streets in MacArthur Park, volunteers renovated a portion of the sidewalk and were joined by Villaraigosa, who drove nails into a bench that was being built. As he got the nails in, a crush of about 30 people cheered. He also helped remove graffiti from a wall behind a community center.

“Beautifying the community and building community pride have always been the goals of our community days of service,” Villaraigosa said. “Today we see the positive impact we can have on our community by working together toward these common goals.”

“It’s good that he’s out here trying to help us out,” said Andy Cerrato, 15, of Palisades High School, who asked Villaraigosa to autograph his T-shirt. Andy, who worked alongside members of his soccer league, said it was the first time he had volunteered. “I’m trying to make L.A. better,” he said.

Halima Qazi, 13, was trying to do the same, one car at a time as she dried and buffed with gusto at a carwash sponsored by the Islamic Center of Hawthorne. By midday, she and other volunteers had cleaned up more than 20 cars and she was ready for a bite of pizza sent over by HomeTown Buffet. The carwash benefited the I Have a Dream Foundation, a mentoring program that helps low-income students go to college. Volunteers inside the center painted flowerpots to send to seniors.

“It’s Big Sunday day,” said Halima, who was wiping down a Toyota SUV. “Everybody is going to be here helping out. It’s fun and it makes me want to do more for others.”

Across town on Hauser Boulevard in the Mid-City area, Ellen Farwell, 70, painted a guardrail over a bridge at Ballona Creek. About 40 volunteers from the neighborhood council, nearby schools and block clubs met to plant 57 native trees, including holly, sycamore and coast live oak, along a three-block path.

“I’ve lived in the area so long, that I’d like any approach to my house to be the best it can be,” said Farwell, who wore a brimmed hat to shade against the warm midmorning sun.

She voiced the spirit of the day.

“This is good way to get to know your neighbors,” Farwell said. “I can do my little part anytime Los Angeles wants to get something off the ground. I’m ready to help.”

(Copyright © 2006 Los Angeles Times)

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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