More people than ever turned out in Merced on Saturday for the citywide day of service that is Love Merced.
Organizers estimated 1,400 people took part in the cleanup, painting, yardwork and other projects in city parks, streets and neighborhoods.
Ammi Aguayo, 30, of Le Grand walked with several others along 16th Street and picked up candy wrappers, plastic cups and whatever other trash she found.
She said she was there with 80 others from Yosemite Church’s Ministerio Latino, and that she said she wanted young people at her church to see there are ways to volunteer in the city.
“I grew up here in Merced,” she said. “I do care for the community.”
The Merced County Fairgrounds hosted the kickoff of Love Merced, and a number of animal enclosures got cleaned or touched up with paint.
Another volunteer, Keith Ducey, said he expected to be joined by about 40 players and parents from Gaucho Youth Football, where Ducey is the president. The group laid down a layer of beige paint on a fairground barn.
He said one focus of the sports program is to make good stewards out of the children who strap on Gaucho helmets, and that Love Merced was a good opportunity for the children to give back.
“Our most important thing is to show everybody it’s more than just football for us,” the 41-year-old said.
On top of that, he said, the day is a good way to strengthen the bonds between nonprofits.
The demographics of Love Merced were wide-ranging, with young and old putting their elbow grease into paintbrushes and brooms.
Organizer Aubrey Nelson said the day of service continues to gain popularity among young people. Hundreds of Merced College and UC Merced students took part, as well as many children.
“We have a lot of kids and their families who want to participate,” she said.
The other organizer, Eric Hamm, said the event garners donations from people and businesses throughout the year. That money goes back into making Love Merced go.
Overseeing one of the fairground projects was Jessica Narayan of Habitat for Humanity, who said she’s noticed the buzz growing around the event.
Love Merced provides a structured way for people looking to volunteer to be able to give back.
“I love to see everyone come together on their days off, when they could be sleeping in,” Narayan said.
Also not sleeping in was Amanda Borges, 31, of Merced, who picked up broken glass on Main Street while her daughter, 9-year-old Delaney, held a trash bag.
Borges said she wanted to set a good example for her daughter by getting her involved.
“It’s important to me,” she said. “We need to be out here.”
Raking up leaves at 16th Street’s bus depot was Luann Rivas of Merced. She has heard of Love Merced for some time, but got involved for the first time this year.
“It’s something that I think Merced needs,” she said. “Maybe this is just one small thing we can do to make Merced a better place.”
Saturday’s effort in Merced was the seventh Love Merced event. Organizers said the numbers of volunteers has grown so large that they’ve cut it down from twice a year to a single April event.
Similar efforts have drawn volunteers in Atwater, Ceres, Delhi, Oakdale, Patterson, Riverbank and Modesto, among many other cities in the region.
Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.