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Day of Caring sees teams of Charleston-area volunteers in person and online, despite pandemic

MOUNT PLEASANT — For 20 years, Trident United Way has organized an annual Day of Caring when a variety of local nonprofits and schools benefit from the volunteer work of hundreds of participants.

It’s a big day of community service that fosters productive partnerships between nonprofits and corporate teams — partnerships that can last.

And these volunteers are not going to let an intensifying global pandemic stand in their way.

At East Cooper Community Outreach — a charity that provides health services, emergency food and clothing, financial aid and more — about 15 volunteers from Nucor showed up Friday morning on Six Mile Road to do some landscaping, trim palmetto trees, repair signs and heighten the barrier around the Dumpster.

Nucor, a manufacturer of steel products in Huger, is a committed ECCO partner. This is the fifth year it has deployed a team to the charity.

The Nucor volunteers, like all of the day’s teams, are concentrating on outside work for safety reasons, said Kathleen Stevens, senior advancement officer of Trident United Way.

Teams also were active in Charleston at Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center and The Green Heart Project, both on King Street, at C.E. Williams Middle School North on Sanders Road, and at about a dozen other tri-county area sites.

United Way Day of Caring

Trident United Way Day of Caring volunteers build plant beds as part of the Green Heart Project at Meeting Street Elementary @ Brentwood on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Volunteers offered their services all across the Charleston area for the annual event. Brad Nettles/Staff

Virtual projects include webinars, career fairs and food drives, Stevens said.

ECCO has benefited from both on-site and virtual volunteering. FineMark Bank on Daniel Island assembled 50 packages of food for distribution to the needy — a total of more than 1,000 pounds — which they deliver to ECCO.

The cosmetic work outside the building in Mount Pleasant is badly needed, said Don Squires, ECCO’s director of development and marketing. It’s the sort of work that gets easily neglected because of the many regular demands of the operation, and the limited staff.

United Way Day of Caring

Trident United Way Day of Caring volunteers Andy Stone (right) and Zeno McConnell spray paint benches at East Cooper Community Outreach on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Brad Nettles/Staff

Yet the charity provides dental, medical and prescription services, functioning as a health clinic for its many clients, and the staff doesn’t want the surroundings to appear bedraggled.

“We want people to feel like this is a proper doctor’s office,” Squires said.

A few of the Nucor volunteers were tidying up a square bed of dirt, applying a layer of mulch and bordering it with bricks to keep the contents contained during a rainstorm. Another group was erecting a chain link fence atop a wall made of concrete blocks that surrounds the Dumpster. This was to put an end to an ongoing problem of unauthorized disposal of objects, according to Frances Huffstetler, ECCO’s volunteer and community engagement manager.

United Way Day of Caring

Trident United Way Day of Caring volunteer Brian Kath spreads mulch at East Cooper Community Outreach on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Brad Nettles/Staff

Other Nucor workers were repairing damaged signs in the parking lot and performing some needed maintenance on a wooden bridge the team built a couple years ago, through foliage that included some poison ivy, to connect ECCO’s lot with the adjacent shopping center.

Landscaping and other outside projects dominated this years’ Day of Caring, Stevens said.

Organizing the event is pretty simple: Trident United Way’s corporate partners go to the website and sign up. Generally, the volunteers look for the kinds of projects they’re good at, matching needs and skillsets.

“We’re very thankful that in the midst of a pandemic Trident United Way is still being involved, pushing the community to be involved in this Day of Caring,” Squires said.

For ECCO, which has a $1.4 million annual budget, the extra help is a blessing. The organization relies heavily on volunteers — 200 a week before the COVID-19 crisis, about 120 a week now. They answer phones, stock the food pantry and fulfill orders.

“It’s how we function,” Squires said.

And the manpower is estimated to be worth about $1 million a year, he said.

United Way Day of Caring

Trident United Way Day of Caring volunteer Graham Robinson hauls soil to build plant beds as part of the Green Heart Project at Meeting Street Elementary @ Brentwood on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Brad Nettles/Staff

Now, the charity is busy signing up people to “adopt a family” for the holidays. They will provide clothing, school desks and supplies, and some toys to about 165 families in need of assistance. The Beech Company is donating a vacant office nearby for temporary storage of the collected goods.

The pandemic has hit the community hard, Squires said. Normally, ECCO will serve about 400 clients a month. They hit a high this summer of 900, and now are working with around 700.

That’s why the landscaping has been neglected, he said.

Contact Adam Parker at aparker@postandcourier.com.

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