Westporters come together in a big way for Big Sunday
Volunteers make big effort to help on others on Big Sunday
It was a big deal.
The first "Big Sunday" drew some 130 teens and their parents to pitch in, sweat and grunt for a good cause, sprucing up woe-begone sites across Westport during the day-long project May 2.
They got dirt under their fingernails, paint on work clothes and the next day, you can bet, had more than a few muscle aches.
But inside -- hearts and souls -- there was lots of satisfaction over having come together to fix up eyesores around town. That's how volunteers described their feelings while they labored in the spirit of "giving back" to the community.
The Gillespie Center for homeless men at 45 Jesup Green was a nerve center of Big Sunday, organized by the Service League of Boys, or SLOBs, and the Westport Chapter of the National Charity League (NCL) at Staples High School. Some 40 volunteers, from contractors George Palinkas to Doug Chervin of Red Dog Renovation, to eager parents and teens, swarmed over the place -- landscaping, painting and finishing the attic housing the food pantry.
They and other volunteers at sites across town were backed by donations from local merchants who provided bread, peanut butter, jelly and cold cuts plus fruit and iced tea to nourish the crews.
Alec Yass, 14, on his hands and knees planting at Gillespie, said, "This is actual work and it feels good. Staples students don't have chances to do real work like this." Yass is a member of Staples SLOBs, a parent-son community service club at the high school. The organization started at New Canaan High before it sprouted at Staples.
The distaff version of SLOBs at Staples is the Westport Chapter of NCL, a mother-daughter philanthropic organization.
In addition to food, merchants also donated mulch, flowers and plants to beautify properties such as the Gillespie and Homes with Hope (formerly Interfaith Housing).
Food came from Stew Leonard's, Stiles, Fresh Market, Roly Poly, Stop and Shop. The bag lunches contained had sandwiches, fruit and bottles of water or tea.
Materials for the spruce-up came from Brandman Paint (Larry Curry); Ace Hardware (Jim and Al Izzo); Westport Hardware (Richard Velez); Cathy Ross; Ring's End Darien (Pete McDonald); Gilbertie's Herb Farm; Oliver Nurseries; Ezzo Nursery (Bernie Izzo); Daybreak Nursery; Geiger's and Athletic Shoe Factory.
Suzanne Kalb, the president of SLOBs and major domo behind the Big Sunday operation, talked about the project during an interview at the Gillespie.
Among the requests were repairing front stairs for an elderly man, fixing a hole in a bathroom floor, painting the first-floor rooms and providing a new roof for a woman whose first floor is a maze of buckets to catch the drips when rain seeps through her leaking roof.
"This Big Sunday is a perfect example of the community coming together, and for parents working with their teenagers, it is a perfect way to model community work for our children," she said.
"Our objective is to bring all of our families out in a day of community service. Every volunteer -- parent, child, contractor -- lives in Westport and is donating his/her time to this special event we call Big Sunday.
In addition to minor repair work on homes for some elderly residents, Kalb said, "We're also painting the emergency housing for women and their children and landscaping the supportive housing apartments."
Kalb said the Hellis Foundation based in New Orleans provided "a very generous donation" for the project. How did that happen?
"My husband Tom told a friend of his in New Orleans about Big Sunday. The friend said it's something I want to support, so he sent a check.
"Wasn't that nice?"