Jewish Journal


May 17, 2011

Big, bigger, biggest Sunday


Two young volunteers make papier-mâché flower pots for the elderly during a Big Sunday event at Temple Israel of Hollywood on Sunday, May 15. Photo by Charles Schwartz

Two young volunteers make papier-mâché flower pots for the elderly during a Big Sunday event at Temple Israel of Hollywood on Sunday, May 15. Photo by Charles Schwartz

The cast on Sarah Byrnes’ foot didn’t slow her down. On Sunday, May 15, she hobbled around the parking lot at Temple Israel of Hollywood, overseeing clothing and book drives, shooting photos of kids dancing and families volunteering, and responding to calls on her walkie-talkie.

“I love doing this,” said Byrnes, who has volunteered to run projects during Big Sunday Weekend for the past five years. “It’s like giving birth. It’s a lot of work when you’re in it. But what you feel afterward is joy.”

From Friday, May 13, through Sunday, May 15, approximately 50,000 people volunteered their time with Big Sunday, the nation’s largest regional community service event. Volunteer projects included such activities as planting gardens at schools, fixing up homeless shelters, sprucing up dog parks and giving blood, benefiting more than 400 organizations.

“We really see Big Sunday as a festival for community service, with the idea that everyone has some way that they can pitch in or help somebody else, and that’s why we have things like art fairs and sports days and pet adoptions and blood drives,” said David Levinson, Big Sunday’s founder and executive director.

Started in 1999, the original event drew about 300 people to Temple Israel of Hollywood for mitzvah day activities. Now an independent nonprofit, Big Sunday has offices on Melrose Avenue and draws volunteers of all ages and from all faiths, races, political persuasions and socioeconomic groups, including those who benefit directly from the projects. Each year Big Sunday has increased in size and scope.

New this year were activities in the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento as well as the addition of volunteer opportunities on Friday, expanding the event to three days. (Big Sunday grew from one day to a full weekend in 2007.)

On Sunday, Lynn Loeb and her two kids volunteered their time at Temple Israel, decorating potholders for Jewish World Watch that will be sent, along with solar cookers, to women living in refugee camps in Africa.

“This is something we can all do as a family together,” said Loeb, an intellectual property lawyer. “We wanted to do something that was for all ages, and to come and hang out with the community. It seems like the whole city is involved.”

At Larchmont Charter School, an elementary school near Melrose Avenue and Vine Street, students and their parents worked alongside volunteers from B’nai David-Judea Congregation and JCorps, a volunteer organization for Jews between the ages of 18 and 28. They did landscaping work, including revitalizing a school garden, and painted a mural, one of the school’s buildings and picnic benches.

Cindee Rood, a parent of a third-grader at Larchmont Charter, spent the day at the school helping out among approximately 100 people.

“Just seeing color on the picnic benches brought tears to my eyes,” she said.

Larchmont Charter and Temple Israel were among the approximately 500 volunteer project sites set up by Big Sunday throughout Los Angeles and other cities in California, from San Diego to Sacramento.

Because many of Big Sunday’s volunteer projects revolve around painting, rain on Saturday night caused concern that some projects would be canceled. Fortunately, the weather broke early Sunday, and all projects proceeded as planned.

While Big Sunday is often thought of as a once-a-year, weekend-long event, the nonprofit has recently become a year-round organization with other smaller endeavors, too.

“So Big Sunday weekend actually becomes a culmination of a year’s worth of volunteering, and the kick-off for another year’s worth of volunteering,” said Levinson, author of “Everybody Helps, Everybody Wins,” a book that encourages reluctant volunteers. “And we really see that this year more than ever.”

For many, Big Sunday provides an opportunity to volunteer somewhere of specific interest, to work side by side with one’s family, congregation or organization and to give back to the city.

“My grandson was asking me if I could come here and help,” said Jose Coreas, an air-conditioning technician, who spent the day painting at Larchmont Charter, which his grandson attends. “So that’s a big reason [why I’m here], because I want him to be proud of this school.”

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