Government employees fan out across Sonoma County in annual ‘Day of Caring’ volunteer event
Beyond a pair of iron gates coated with dried moss and fungi lies a small, overgrown 19th century cemetery off Bennett Valley Road in Santa Rosa, and on Wednesday it got some much needed care.
A group of Sonoma County employees was hard at work by mid-morning, pulling rakes, sinking shovels into dirt paths concealed by beds of leaves and trimming back outstretched tree branches over leaning, weathered tombstones. The troop of volunteers, most from the county’s water agency, had put aside their day jobs to roll up their sleeves at the resting place of more than 200 people, reestablishing pathways at the historic landmark so that loved ones can come pay their respects.
“I didn’t know that this place existed, and saw that it’s beautiful when I came up here,” said Damian Gonshorowski, who handles internal audits for the county. “I work behind a computer all day and work in Excel a lot. So part of the appeal is to get out of the office and do some community service.”
The dozen or so volunteers at the rural cemetery were part of the 19th annual Day of Caring event that involved government employees from the county and city of Santa Rosa taking a one-day hiatus from work to invest their time in service projects around the community. This year featured a variety of activities, including trail building and maintenance at nature preserves, beach and coastal cleanups, and landscaping work at two area cemeteries, with more than 300 government employees taking part.
About 15 people volunteered to pick fresh produce and pull invasive plants at the Larkfield Community Garden and Learning Center, which provides students at nearby Mark West Elementary School the chance each week to exercise their green thumb and master an outdoor kitchen.
The schoolchildren primarily maintain the shaded 1-acre garden on county parkland, plus volunteer once a month to help with the annual harvest. Wednesday’s event at the garden, spearheaded by the Community Soil Foundation, couldn’t have come at a better time, said the garden’s coordinator, farmer Catherine Sieck.
“The kids are just coming back to school, but they haven’t really gotten oriented to the garden, so they’re not really doing any of the work,” she said, holding a summer hat filled with just-plucked husk cherries. “It’s a big garden for one person to be managing, so days like this are really helpful to us.”
Wicker baskets brimming with zucchini, Armenian and lemon cucumbers and hauls of tomatoes and shishito peppers were among the other produce ripe for the picking. What isn’t used by the school is bound for the tables of low-income families in the neighborhood and Molsberry Market in the Larkfield Shopping Center.
Volunteers echoed one another, saying the day was just as beneficial to them as it was for the projects where they gave their time and effort.
Paul Nema, an information technology manager for the county’s probation department, said he was hoping to pick up some crop cultivation tips during his time at the Larkfield garden.
“You know, this is the first time I’ve seen asparagus growing. It doesn’t look like that in the supermarket,” he said. “It didn’t matter where I went, if I’m indoors, outdoors. The idea is to volunteer and help, and make a difference.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or email@example.com. On Twitter @kfixler.