Floppy hat shading his face from the sun, Jose Lemus trimmed back a sprawling shrub that had grown through a picket fence and is intruding into the sidewalk along Moorland Avenue in south Santa Rosa.
The 42-year resident of the neighborhood was one of more than 1,000 volunteers who fanned out around Sonoma County on Wednesday to pitch in on painting, weeding and heavy lifting for the United Way’s annual Day of Caring.
From Cloverdale to Petaluma and Sonoma to Forestville, volunteers in fluorescent shirts worked on 84 separate projects with a singular goal: helping others.
“People have been stopping, seeing our pink shirts, and want to know what’s going on,” said United Way President Mike Kallhoff, touring the Moorland cleanup project. “They want to know what they can do to help. Here’s what you can do — contribute.”
All along Moorland south of Corby Avenue, several dozen volunteers, many from the county Health Services Department, raked, shoveled and trimmed unwieldy blackberry bushes that made the sidewalks inaccessible and made the street look unkempt.
Others who live in the neighborhood saw the commotion and came outside to pitch in themselves.
Throughout Sonoma County, work teams from 37 local businesses, schools and public agencies bagged food for the needy, helped out at a homeless shelter, painted a school and completed other projects.
“I hope we keep doing this more often,” said Lemus, who raised his family at his nearby home and whose four daughters now work for Sonoma County. “I’ve seen lots of change in the years. I hope it keeps getting better.”
Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who had worked up a sweat by mid-morning along Moorland, said the effort was “a beautiful thing.”
“It’s all about community,” he said. “It’s great for the community and the volunteers. Now moms with strollers can walk through here.”
About a dozen volunteers from Keysight Technologies (formerly Agilent) worked at the Living Room in Santa Rosa, helping the small staff of the nonprofit women’s and children’s drop-in center clean out a food storage room, paint a community room and clean chairs and children’s outdoor toys.
“We look forward to this all year long,” said Cheryl Parkinson, the agency’s executive director. “The Keysight people are so helpful and efficient. They sweep right through and help us out tremendously.”
“It will have a bit of a facelift, which it really needs,” said Celeste Austin, program coordinator for the Living Room. “And it will lift our spirits.”
Another half-dozen Keysight workers made quick work of painting an office at Kid Street Learning Center on Davis Street. Company volunteers have unofficially adopted the school for the annual event, building a large lanai in the school yard and rehabbing the landscaping in previous years.
“I enjoy doing this kind of work and giving back to the community,” said Tom Fetter, who has volunteered seven or eight times, often at Kid Street.
Keysight provided nearly 400 volunteers for the effort; Sonoma County sent 350 workers, Kallhoff said.
County health employee Kelly Elder said the project along Moorland was pretty daunting. A large waste bin was set up to remove all the brush and debris the workers collected. But it was rewarding, she said.
“It’s a big job,” she said, “but you get 15 or 20 people working together on it, you can get a lot done.”