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Nonprofits offer up to 100 free Disney passes for a day of volunteer service

The United Way, Arts Council, Food Bank and HandsOn Central California said they’re joining forces with Disney Resorts to reward volunteers during 2010.

Free passes to Disneyland or Disney World may be awarded to up to 100 Merced County residents in return for a day of service as volunteers, organizers said.

The groups have scheduled a “Give a day, get a Disney day” community service event Feb. 6 at the food bank. After finishing a morning of sorting, packing and labeling items for local food pantries, the first 100 to sign up will qualify for free admission to either of the Disney parks. One million passes will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis.

“We’ve organized several days of service at the Food Bank in the past,” said United Way Executive Director Flip Hassett. “It’s really great to be able to recognize the hard work that good citizens do in support of their community.”

The giveaway program began Jan. 1. According to a Disney Web site, projects involving more than 1,000 volunteers are being scheduled in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami and in Canadian cities, including Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver.

“We’re looking for 1 million people with a passion to make a difference. And we’re working with HandsOn Network to do it,” the site said.

Merced is one of five counties served by HandsOn Central California, which has opened a branch office in Merced County. Temporarily housed in the Multicultural Arts Center on Main Street, the center supports volunteerism and community projects.

“We’re pleased to be working with HandsOn,” said Merced County Arts Council Executive Director Staci Santa. “Any support we can lend to help HandsOn open a branch office also supports the Arts Council. Having them in our community is definitely a ‘win-win’ proposition. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

Those interested in signing up for the day of service on Feb. 6 and qualifying for Disney passes must register at the official Web site:

Access the “search for an activity” page, enter the Merced zip code (95340), search for the “United Way/Food Bank Day of Service” and follow the instructions.

For help, contact Tamra Partin, volunteer coordinator and an AmeriCorps member assigned to the Arts Center, at (209) 388-1090,

Though organizers said the promotion is scheduled to continue through December 2010, once the million-person limit is reached, the offer will end, according to the Disney site.

“The Arts Council has a number of other volunteer opportunities available that also qualify for the Disney promotion,” said Partin. “The response in just the first few days of the year has been amazing. We’re hoping that the volunteer spirit will continue to grow even after Disney runs out of passes.”

The Merced County Food Bank is a nonprofit agency that receives partial funding from the United Way of Merced County. It provides food to emergency providers.

The food bank is the result of actions by citizens of Merced County and a collaboration of local social service agencies, the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA) and local government. In operation since 2004, the facility is located at 2000 W. Olive Ave. and contains 32,000 square feet of storage space, according to Executive Director Phyliss Legg.

Hunger affects more than 40,000 people in Merced County, and more than 18 percent of the population lives below the poverty level, organizers said in a news release. The food bank distributes food to emergency providers, including 68 area pantries and 17 USDA food distribution sites; it feeds nearly 4,500 people each month, Legg said.

“We process literally tons of food in our building,” Legg added. “Unfortunately, that still means that we are meeting only about 20 percent of the need.”

For more information:Merced County Arts Council: (209) 388-1090; artsmerced.orgMerced County Food Bank: (209) 726-3663; mercedcountyfoodbank.orgUnited Way of Merced County: (209) 383-4242; unitedwaymerced.orgHandsOn Central California: (559) 237-3101;