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Tens of thousands volunteer at Big Sunday events throughout California

The annual charity event helped fund more than 500 projects across the state, organizers say, including school and park improvements, delivering meals to seniors and a breakfast for veterans.

May 15, 2011|By Ari Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times
  • Volunteers help paint a mural at Logan Elementary in Echo Park, one of more than 500 Big Sunday charity projects planned throughout California last weekend.
Volunteers help paint a mural at Logan Elementary in Echo Park, one of more… (Katie Falkenberg, For The…)

Chris Phipps helped unload redwood at Carthay Center Elementary on Sunday to build a chicken coop in the school's "Garden of Possibilities" — a small but seemingly enchanted plot filled with tomato, cucumber and herb plants.

Students already use the garden as part of their education, but adding livestock will take it to another level, parents said.

Phipps, who has a 9-year-old son at the school, said such enhancements are difficult because of tight budgets and "when the school can't do it, the parents step in."

Organizers say Phipps was among tens of thousands of volunteers who picked up shovels, paintbrushes and sorted clothes last weekend in one of the largest service events on the West Coast.

Collectively known as Big Sunday, the more than 500 events across the state included cleaning up schools and nonprofit centers, delivering meals to seniors and making drums for youths.

Parents at Carthay said the new chicken coop and other repairs would not have happened without the $1,000 provided by Big Sunday.

"It is constantly a battle to raise funds," said Phipps' wife, Erica, who heads the school's parent-teacher association. "It really helps counteract things we would typically have to pay for ourselves."

Other scheduled Big Sunday projects included cleaning a children's park in Sacramento, sprucing up a horse rescue center in Trabuco Canyon, hosting a breakfast for wounded veterans in San Diego and cooking with Project Chicken Soup in Culver City.

"We're not only rehabbing an office building or a house, painting over graffiti or planting gardens all across the city. We're connecting to neighborhoods," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said outside the Venice Family Clinic, where a fence was being painted and other improvements were planned.

"That's what I think a city of service is really about," Villaraigosa said. "It's about saying that government can't do everything. That every one of us has the responsibility to be the change we want."

Big Sunday started in 1999 as a mitzvah day at Temple Israel in Hollywood with a couple hundred volunteers. David Levinson, the event's founder, estimates that more than 50,000 people now participate and said the project's expansion was possible partly because of several high-profile donors, including NBCUniversal, Oracle and DreamWorks.

People "want to help, they just need to know that they're wanted and needed," Levinson said.

"We're not going to cure all the problems in the world, obviously, in a weekend," he said. But it is successful "if we can push things in the right direction and show people … whether they're a CEO, or whether they're a 2-year-old, or whether they're anyone else, that there is some way that they can help."

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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