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Volunteers Do Good in a Big Way

About 2,000 people, the most in five years, fan out across L.A. County to paint, cook, make over and otherwise help those who are in need.

May 05, 2003|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

A used dress and a gaudy handbag can go a long way, when they are shared in the spirit of kindness.

Ask Lula Robinson, a 57-year-old homeless woman who on Sunday at the Hawkes transitional shelter in Echo Park was among dozens treated to free makeovers as part of Big Sunday.

The effort throughout Los Angeles County drew an estimated 2,000 volunteers from churches, synagogues and service organizations. That's the most volunteers to take part since Temple Israel in Hollywood started the event five years ago.

Robinson had her makeup and hair done by one of the stylists from Westside salons who volunteered their services. She also picked out a red polka-dot dress from the racks of donated clothing that crowded the shelter's porch.

"I have a pair of shoes that'll go real nice with this," Robinson said, posing with her baby blue handbag, made of faux snakeskin. "I just feel so good today."

As she modeled a brown coat and costume jewelry, 48-year-old Brenda White said it was good to "forget that you're homeless."

Volunteers fanned out across the county to paint schools and homes for disabled people, entertain seniors, spruce up day-care centers and prepare care baskets for delivery to homes for troubled teens. The event, featuring 106 projects from South Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley, drew mostly members of synagogues. But Big Sunday also included volunteers from Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Mormon congregations and schools, and service groups such as Rebuilding Together.

"It's a big mitzvah day," said teacher Shari Rosenman, 40, who was painting a rainbow heart on a wall at the Soto Street preschool near an Eastside freeway. She was referring to the good deed commandment in Judaism. "It's like an obligation; we feel it's our obligation to help beautify the world."

The toddlers and young schoolchildren who attend the Soto Street school are in for a big surprise this morning, with murals on the walls and newly painted outdoor furniture.

"I just can't wait to see the children's faces when they come in Monday morning," said Irene Davila, the school housekeeper.

"We got broken into three times in a row. Maybe now they'll leave us alone. It's nice to see people working together. It can be done," Davila said as she gestured to a mural painted by children of the adult volunteers.

The day started early for those who went to the Vista Nova Home for the Blind in Pasadena, on a quiet street still damp from Saturday's storm. Among them was a boy who insisted on working only with the long roller paint brushes, a 79-year-old retired engineer, an investment banker and a high school senior set to go to the University of Chicago. By 10 a.m. one wall had been done.

"Painting is fun," said Geraldine Mund, a bankruptcy judge in Woodland Hills. "You walk away and say, 'We did this.' "

Beatrice Blank spent most of the day in her apartment at Vista Nova, but that didn't keep the 90-year-old blind retiree from listening to the noises outside as the volunteers gave her building a fresh coat of paint and planted gardenias, because they have a strong scent.

"Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful," Blank said.

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