Like many basements, the one at the California Area Public Library was in some desperate need of spring cleaning.
“I took a look down there,” said Dr. Claudia Bennett, librarian and library director. “It’s full tables and VHS tapes and moldy books and chairs and who knows what else.”
The borough of California paid for a bin to collect the contents, but the manpower to haul the stuff out of the basement was another matter.
“We really don’t have that many volunteers,” Bennett said. “A bunch of angels are coming here to help us out.”
The “angels” — 25 Acacia fraternity brothers — arrived around 9:15 a.m. They were among the 489 student volunteers who fanned out throughout California and neighboring communities to pitch in as part of the Big Event on April 13.
Cal U’s annual program matches student workers with owners of businesses, organizations and private residences who could use a little help with chores such as painting, cleaning, organizing and generally sprucing up.
This year, 36 sites were on the to-do list.
“It’s nice to see familiar names on the list, but we also had a nice blend of new locations,” said Diane Hasbrouck, director of the Center for Volunteer Programs and Service Learning at Cal U.
“The community is very accepting and excited, and so are the students. It’s a great town-gown experience for everyone.”
Library board member Larry Papini was on hand to help with any “trash vs. treasure” decisions as student hauled out items such as card catalogs, plywood, screens and a projector out of the basement.
“A day like this is very important,” Papini said. “I came here a lot as a child. I live on Fourth Street, and I’m surrounded by college students. They’re terrific!”
“I like how we’re here on the weekend using our free time to help the community out,” said Paul Wible, a first-year sport management major.
On Green Street, 13 members of the women’s soccer team scraped and painted a house. Seventy members of the football team spent the morning cleaning up Phillipsburg Cemetery.
On Pennsylvania Avenue, 15 Sigma Kappa sorority sisters painted dugouts, the concession stand and benches for California Youth Athletics.
“I love the Big Event,” said Anna Myers, a senior childhood education major, paint roller in hand. “We get a chance to bond and connect doing something we wouldn’t normally do. I like volunteering in general, and I feel like I’m a part of something.”
“We never have time to do this part because we’re always so focused on getting the fields and equipment ready,” said Jennifer Todd, treasurer for California Youth Athletics, a baseball and softball organization that includes 148 boys and girls ages 4-14.
Across the street, homeowner Betty Copenhaver was grateful for five Sigma Kappa members who were washing windows and raking leaves.
“I’ve been in this program for many years,” she said. “I have health problems and can’t care for the property like I want to. These ladies are busy, busy, busy! It’s been very helpful.”
“One of our values is service,” said Skylar Steinhart, a junior social work major, “and it’s one of the reasons why I joined Greek life.”
Forty students, from Delta Zeta and Sigma Tau Gamma, helped at the Greater Washington County Food Bank. They sorted clothing donations, packed nearly 200 boxes for area families, helped to organize the facility’s training kitchen and prepared 15 raised beds for planting.
“It’s great to have generational volunteers, to see young people caring about our future,” said Jodi Gatts, administrative assistant and program director of the Healthy Habits Training Center.
Members of the Criminal Justice and Medical Interest clubs helped homeowner Linda Cairns with yardwork.
“It would have taken me five months to do what they did this morning,” Cairns said.
“I’m not usually ‘outdoorsy,’” said first-year student Destiny Hoskins, a biology major. “But this was relaxing, and it was so nice to give back and show love. I was ready to put my hands in soil — and I don’t put my hands in soil!”