Winter is coming, and it's time for home renovations for the Monarch butterflies in North Charleston's Park Circle. Out with the Mexican petunias, in with the milkweed.
On the eastern edge of Park Circle, the orange butterflies fluttered in the air and striped caterpillars inched along the ground as about a dozen humans in blue T-shirts tore up their summertime homes. Mallory Biering carefully lifted caterpillars to the safety of a small red bucket.
The removal of the old stems from the petunias in the Park Circle Butterfly Garden is an annual affair, one that requires careful tree trimming, layering of newspapers as weed barriers and lots of manual labor. The butterfly garden is used by hospice groups, schools and married couples for weddings. Maintenance wouldn't be possible without Trident United Way's Day of Caring, Keep North Charleston Beautiful director Carmen Hanlon said.
"This is truly a garden that wouldn't be here without the volunteers," Hanlon said.
Keep North Charleston Beautiful is just one of many groups in the tri-county area to benefit from Trident United Way's annual Day of Caring. On Friday, United Way rallied more than 5,500 volunteers from 133 different area companies to participate in 277 projects across Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties.
This is a huge increase in volunteerism since the summer of 2000, when the first Day of Caring involved 175 volunteers and 18 projects, said Trident United Way CEO Christopher Kerrigan. One of Trident United Way's goals with the annual event is to encourage "365-day-a-year" volunteering, Kerrigan said.
"Thousands of people are volunteering the Friday before the holidays," he said. "That's a lot of people making a difference."
A few miles south of Park Circle, a very different scene unfolded inside the dimly lit warehouse of the Lowcountry Food Bank. Dozens of volunteers swiftly tore through packages of peanut butter jars, tuna cans and whole wheat pasta and stacked the items in an assembly line-fashion. Employees of The InterTech Group stocked boxes that would specifically supply the kitchens of hungry families in the Lowcountry.
"It's really moving to know that we're making a difference, in particular for students who experience food insecurity," said Jonathan Zucker, president of The InterTech Group. "Young children, they don't know where the next meal is coming from."
In total, the roughly 5,500 volunteers spanned 133 different companies, said Caroline Morris, a spokesperson for Trident United Way. The largest project group of volunteers originated in Patriots Point. Over 500 sailors from the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command at Joint Base Charleston helped the staff at Patriots Point clean airplanes, remove debris from ships and paint the USS Yorktown's flight deck.
Many of the service projects took place in area schools. At Mary Ford Elementary School in North Charleston, volunteers led students in a gardening project. In Charleston's Sanders-Clyde Elementary School, Blackbaud employees created a "therapy room," intended for use by distressed students.
Blackbaud employee Daniel Affourtit helped co-workers assemble inflatable chairs and organized shelves. A former middle school teacher, Affourtit said spending time with the children is invaluable.
"They engaged, they asked us questions," Affourtit said.
In West Ashley, Carolina Voyager Charter School students spent the day with nurses from the Medical University of South Carolina.
One by one, the children lined up for vision screenings, blood pressure readings and height and weight recordings. In another room, children took turns practicing push-ups and sit-ups on yoga mats.
The nine nurses belong to MUSC's nursing professional development department, and spend most of their days working with colleagues as opposed to patients. The Day of Caring is a way for them to "get back in touch" with patients, and lighten the work load of Voyager's sole nurse, MUSC nurse Stephanie Chomos said.
At the end of the day Friday, Trident United Way calculated that nonprofit agencies and schools received a total of 28,249 volunteer hours, which equated to more than $20,000 in free labor. That number is based on an $11.11-an-hour wage average recommended by the federal government and did not include the cost of supplies purchased by participating companies, Morris said.
Voyager's sole nurse, Dawn Crowley, certainly benefited from the screenings.
"It lightens her load, and gets us out into the community to advocate for better health for the kids," Chomos said. "This area is considered the 'Bible belt,' and it's also considered the 'belt buckle.' All that comes from high blood pressure, diabetes and poor diet."
Outside the exercise room, Kylie Riddick, 6, compared her health stats with classmates Tate Powell, 6, and Griffyn Hayner, 6. The students said they learned more about why blood pressure is important.
"So you can always have energy, to run and jump!" Tate said.
As Griffyn worked on her push-ups — she made it to six — Tate and Kylie talked about what they wanted to eat. They learned that healthy food is important, but still wanted ice cream.