LAURINBURG — In a sea of gray, more than 200 people packed the Laurinburg Presbyterian Church fellowship hall bright and early on Friday morning.
The group included people from every walk of life — all wearing United Way shirts emblazoned with the words “reach out a hand to one and influence the condition of all.”
After breakfast, a few words of inspiration and gratitude, and a highlight reel of United Way’s February “womanless pageant” fundraiser, the volunteers headed out to help local nonprofit organizations for the annual “Day of Caring.”
“If you’re here today, raise your hand,” quipped United Way President and Scotland County Manager Kevin Patterson, recognizing that many of Friday’s volunteers took time away from their day jobs to pitch in.
“Thank you very much, because this United Way and frankly our community would not be as good of a place as it is without you.”
The event also served as a kickoff to United Way’s fall fundraising campaign that the organization has set a goal of $260,000. Campaign Chair Carol Nichols, also the organizer of Scotland County Special Olympics, testified to United Way’s contribution to community nonprofit work.
“Because of United Way, as a coordinator I don’t have to spend my Saturdays doing car washes, going door-to-door, and various other fundraisers because United Way supports Special Olympics,” said Nichols. “With the support, I can concentrate on the program, I can concentrate on the athletes, I can concentrate on the games.”
The Rev. Garland Pierce, pastor of Bright Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church and one of Scotland County’s representatives in the state General Assembly, applauded the volunteers on behalf of “the least of us.”
“For the nameless and faceless people that are unable to be here this morning, I want to say thank you on their behalf, those who have gone through situations and United Way in this community was there to give a helping hand,” he said. “There’s power in unity.”
Later, Pierce was among some 25 volunteers to plant a fruit orchard on McDougald Avenue behind the Washington Park walking track. For that particular project, United Way board member Daisy Dye recruited a handful of her co-workers at Hanesbrand in Laurel Hill.
“Daisy actually asked us to volunteer, and we jumped at the opportunity,” said Karen Clark. “It’s a little humid, but it’s great — it’s better than being behind a desk.”
Thursday night’s rainfall made the clay excavated from holes dug earlier in the week by the city’s electrical department a bit heavier than some of the volunteers had bargained for — but no one was complaining.
“If I could do this at least once a week, work would be so much more pleasurable,” said Milton Vila. “I’m glad I wore my boots this morning — this dirt is a little heavy.”
By next spring, the orchard will be a source of apples, pears, and figs to which anyone can help themselves.
“Once you get in the rhythm of it, it’s awesome,” Wendy Bartley of Mt. Olive Seventh-Day Adventist Church said of the work. “Hopefully once the fruits blossom they will be a blessing to the community.”
At a Habitat for Humanity build site scarcely a mile away, more than 40 people took up tools to construct and erect walls on the foundation of a single mother’s future home.
“It’s wonderful. It’s a little humid, but at least it’s not hot,” said Smithfield production director Tom Hagood.
Paula Frei, a co-worker, noted that “the bugs are … cooperating” as she handed him nails.
“You know, for a summer job one time, I spent like two months straightening bent nails,” Hagood said. “After that I just got me another job.”
Smithfield’s volunteer force on the Habitat site totaled 11, with some applying paint to a storage shed. They were joined by representatives of the Scotland Health Care System, who worked to construct spacers for the home’s doorways.
“We get to pick where we want to go and we love to do Habitat because we get to work with our hands. A home is like the American dream,” said Chinna Hale, assistant director of the Scotland Memorial Hospital emergency department.
“Just knowing that we stepped out of our jobs to help the community — it’s a kind of healing for yourself to step out and help other people, it’s like healing your heart at the same time.”
At the Scotland County Humane Society, some 20 Day of Caring volunteers were hard at work exercising shelter dogs, photographing adoptable animals, and gardening.
“I retired from the university in Pembroke and I’ve tried to get involved with the community since,” said volunteer Maureen Windmeyer,” who with husband Robert snapped candid shots of shelter pets to help the humane society promote them to potential adopters.
“My background is IT so for everything I want to do, I go to the internet,” she said. “If they can get pictures of the animals up on the internet, that’s where people will go first.”
Shelter director Melinda McMillan hopes to acquaint the volunteers with what the shelter does on a daily basis.
“It helps enlighten the community, a lot of locals have never visited the shelter and they don’t know what we do in a day’s time,” McMillan said. “In order to network the animals we have to get to know them, groom them, walk them, get them some socialization — it’s a long day every day.”
Other volunteers worked on the beautification project in the front azalea garden.
“That front garden is in memory of Fran and J.D. Asher who are the founders of the shelter and their ashes are actually sprinkled out there,” said McMillan. “The front azalea garden is in their honor.”
Two workers, Bud McAllister and Paul Harling, worked on the garden beautification by trimming hedges and mowing lawns.
“I get to hang out with superheroes every day,” said McAllister in regards to working with the women of the shelter. “They save lives every day.”
Harling is a lifelong Laurinburg resident and strives to do his part as a community member.
“I wanted to give back to the Human Society as a responsible citizen of Scotland County and I feel like it’s a worthy organization,” Harling said. “I encourage anyone else that would like to volunteer for the humane society to come forward.”
Mary Katherine Murphy and Abby Hackmann can be reached at 910-276-2311.