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‘Raking a difference’: United Way seeking volunteers to give back to local seniors by raking, assembling care kits

Northern Michigan University Phi Sigma Sigma member, Caci Pippin, of Hartland, MI, enjoys her morning clearing away leaves at one of the many homes the sorority was appointed to take care of during NMU's Make A Difference Day on Oct. 26, 2013, in Marquette. This year, United Way is hosting Rake a Difference Day on Oct. 24. Organizers encourage area residents to volunteer for yard work or put together care kits for local seniors. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — Make a Difference Day, which is a national day of volunteering, falls on the fourth Saturday of October each year.

This year, United Way of Marquette County is hosting Rake a Difference Day on Oct. 24. Volunteers will rake the yards of people aged 60 and older who are physically unable to perform yard work or cannot afford to pay for yard services.

Andrew Rickauer, executive director of United Way of Marquette County, said the pandemic has slowed down the initiative somewhat, but the need still exists.

“It’s a slow process,” he said. “A lot of coordinating. What we found out early on was that a lot of the groups that typically help with Make a Difference Day, a lot aren’t able to get out in groups this year.

“But the need is still there and we figured we could help coordinate the effort with having individuals and family groups go and provide the service.”

Make a Difference Day was founded by now-defunct USA Weekend magazine in the 1990s. The publication was joined in nationwide promotion of Make a Difference Day by Points of Light, an international nonprofit volunteer organization founded by President George H.W. Bush.

USA Weekend ceased operations in late 2014, and although Make a Difference Day is no longer promoted on a national scale, millions of people and many groups and organizations step up each year to help their communities and neighbors with an array of different projects.

So if you’re unable to get out and rake this year, an alternative way of making a difference is to put together care kits that will be distributed to seniors around Marquette County.

“Individuals who aren’t able to and don’t want to go out, or maybe aren’t physically able to get out and rake, can put together a senior care kit,” Rickauer said. “It’s about putting things together that seniors need and aren’t as easy to find or get.

“Something to brighten up their day. Sanitizer, cleaning supplies, there’s a lot to just brighten up the day for seniors. We’re recommending puzzles, large print books, playing cards and other necessities like cleaning, sanitizer, socks, those types of things.

“Kits give the option to do something from the safety of your home and make a difference, which will be distributed to seniors in need within the county. We offer those suggestions of what to include, but it’s up to the individual to put together what they want.”

Rickauer is unsure how many volunteers and seniors have signed up, but assures that participants are still needed on both sides.

“We started promoting to individuals late last week,” he said. “We want to get the word out there that the service is available and we need volunteers and seniors who need their yards raked. We’ve also been working with the local senior centers in trying to fill the gaps.”

Eligible seniors will have their yards raked by a team of volunteers on Oct. 24 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Approximate times cannot be guaranteed as volunteers will likely have many yards to rake throughout the day. The senior does not need to be home for their yard to be raked.

The seniors should provide rakes and other supplies if able, as volunteers are not guaranteed to be able to provide them.

Volunteers are subject to a waiver and background check and will try to rake as much of the yard as possible.

United Way asks those with large yards to understand that volunteers are serving many seniors that day and will do as much as they can.

At minimum, volunteers will be sure to rake at least 50 feet around the perimeter of the home, along with clearing areas around the home’s foundation and walkways.

Volunteers will be required to wear a face mask when within six feet of another individual. Aside from that, organizers believe COVID-19 will have minimal impact on the outdoor event.

Eligible seniors who would like their yard raked on Oct. 24 can call 906-226-8171. Seniors must be aged 60 and older and be physically unable to do yard work or unable to afford yard services.

Seniors are helped on a first-come, first-served basis and is dependent on the number of volunteers available.

For groups and individuals looking to sign up to rake yards, visit https://uwmqt.galaxydigital.com/. If you’re interested in putting together a care kit, visit https://uwmqt.galaxydigital.com/need/detail/?need_id=543510.

For more information on United Way of Marquette County, visit www.uwmqt.org.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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