PORTLAND — Two dozen volunteers descended on the Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine on Thursday. They went to work weeding flower beds, freshening the paint on a scaled-down pirate ship, applying finish to picnic tables and dismantling the aging Taj Mahal clubhouse.
“We have plenty of stuff for them to do,” said Matt Chamberlain, a member of the museum’s exhibits and operations staff.
The volunteers were among more than 1,000 people from various companies and organizations who turned out for the United Way of Greater Portland’s 18th annual Day of Caring.
After gathering for a kickoff breakfast at Back Cove, the volunteers fanned out to 90 projects at 60 nonprofit organizations. They did chores ranging from yard work to public relations consulting to painting. And yes, they did windows.
Day of Caring was a small event when it started in the early 1990s, with only about 10 projects, said Suzanne McCormick, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Portland.
“Over the years,” she said, “the nonprofits have come to depend on this day for their capital improvements,” and the event has grown.
At a playground for PROP’s child care program, several men from Local 1996 of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters took apart an old play structure. The agency has wanted to do the job for several years, but every year something more pressing has come up, said Kevin Dean, who supervises PROP’s child and family services field staff.
“It’s pretty simple for us,” said Dana Goldsmith, the local’s training coordinator for northern New England. “At the onset, we didn’t know what we were going to be facing. A few of us brought our own tools.”
About 70 volunteers helped the Salvation Army sort food that had been collected by the National Association of Letter Carriers.
When the volunteers arrived at the warehouse, they found mail totes containing 50,000 pounds of food, said Capt. Penny Shaffer of the Salvation Army in Portland. The volunteers worked in assembly-line fashion, sorting and boxing the donated food.
“People are coming with a willing spirit to do whatever needs to be done,” Shaffer said.
After most of the volunteers had finished, three teens from Long Creek Youth Development Center were still loading boxes — marked for categories like “BEANS,” “MAC & CHEESE,” “BAKING” and “SAUCE” — into a trailer attached to a pickup truck.
“I just asked who wanted to go. Today’s our first time here,” said Jeff Bachelder, juvenile program manager for the unit, which is geared toward boys who are nearing release and includes regular community service activities.
In the museum’s back yard, L.L. Bean human resources employees shared their adventures of the morning.
Heidi Baughman, a department coordinator, revamped the museum’s birthday room with light yellow and turquoise paint.
“We’re having a blast today,” she said.
Tim Wachtl, an interviewer, helped to take down the Taj Mahal. The volunteers took off the foam dome and knocked off pieces with sledgehammers.
“We found out we’re not men of steel,” he said.
The influx of volunteers at the museum meant that its backyard — a difficult spot to maintain because of its exposure to the elements — would get some dramatic improvements quickly, said Chamberlain, the staff member.
Normally, the three members of the exhibit and operations staff would have to chip away at such a project, sometimes with help from one or two volunteers. But by lunchtime Thursday, Chamberlain was optimistic that the work would be finished in time for a members party on the deck in the evening.
“Whenever we get a group like this, it’s really a big help,” he said.
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: