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United Way Day of Caring attracts more than 3,500 volunteers

A group of Wegmans employees gave a not-for-profit ministry on Buffalo’s East Side a full makeover Wednesday.

At the Response to Love Center on Kosciuszko Street, Wegmans chef Bill Makofski planted organic herbs outside. Baker customer service employee Natalie Golubski drew hopscotch boxes with chalk for the inner-city children. Sub shop server Mary Bordonaro painted the church’s walls. Front-end coordinator Luke Vorpahl raked debris and garbage from the grass.

Those are just a few examples of the 3,563 volunteers from 145 local companies providing hands-on help to 129 not-for-profit projects in Buffalo as part of United Way of Buffalo & Erie County’s 22nd annual Day of Caring.

The Day of Caring is Western New York’s largest community service event. Employees from companies such as Wegmans, HSBC, National Grid and more traded in their work attire for United Way T-shirts and sneakers, and got their hands dirty helping out the community’s not-for-profit organizations.

“We’re mobilizing one day a year, with over 3,500 people, to improve the quality of life in this community,” said United Way President Michael Weiner. “These are agencies serving high-risk, high-need communities.”

Take, for instance, the 125 Wegmans employees who took over the Response to Love Center, which provides the East Side’s poverty-stricken community with food. And in the process, those employees experienced team-building and eye-opening moments of what the community needs.

“The building can use every extra hand it can get,” said Vorpahl, as he finished raking the grass and went on to weeding and landscaping.

Sandy Falsone, a Wegmans training coordinator who has volunteered at every Day of Caring since its inception 22 years ago, gets emotional on this day each year. She stood in the Response to Love Center’s parking lot, clipboard in hand, directing the Wegmans co-workers as they worked on giving the place a fresh coat of paint, new shelves, clean landscaping and a hand with the neighborhood’s kids.

“These people are killing themselves every day, reaching out and meeting people in the community,” she said of Sister Mary Johnice’s ministry. “So let us do the things that they don’t have time for, like painting, organizing, landscaping, so that they can do what they do best, which is service provision.”

The help didn’t go unappreciated. Johnice founded the Response to Love Center in 1985 and purchased the building two years ago.

“When I looked at the building, I saw the needs,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, how are we going to do this?’ This is glorious because I don’t have to concentrate on repairs and painting. I can focus on making a difference in people’s lives.”

Volunteers from area companies tackled other projects – sorting, organizing and hanging clothes at Buffalo City Mission Thrift Store in Depew; assisting with Community Fun Day at Westminster Charter School for Buffalo Promise; and chaperoning a trip to Martin Fantasy Island on Grand Island for various Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo, just to name a few.