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Volunteers answer the call

Early turnout for National Day of Service 2009

Posted: January 17, 2009 9:29 p.m.
Updated: January 18, 2009 4:59 a.m.

Santa Clarita Valley residents lined up outside the Defense Fund offices Saturday.

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More than 40 volunteers responded early to President-elect Barack Obama's national call for Monday's Day of Service. The local Obama for America Committee and community service group SCV Jaycees enlisted the help of those local volunteers Saturday to stock and distribute foodstuffs, as well as help needy recipients load their vehicles at the Hunger Defense Fund.

"We were asked to put together a non-partisan service event to celebrate Obama's inauguration," said event co-organizer Bart Bishop of the Obama Committee.

The Corporation for National and Community Service, the agency that oversees AmeriCorps, has been working for 14 years to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national day of service at the request of Congress. They also worked with the inaugural committee on the new project.

Gen. Colin Powell asked Americans to consider their day off on Martin Luther King Day a "day on" instead.
Powell, an honorary co-chair of the inauguration, announced the Presidential Inaugural Committee's "Renew America Together" volunteering initiative would take place Monday, the King holiday. But local event coordinators decided to kick off service day efforts early on Saturday to maximize turnout, said co-organizer DawnAnn Spittle.

"Part of what Obama wants us to do is be more active in our communities," Spittle said. "Martin Luther King Jr. was a big volunteer."

Ginny Hernandez of Castaic, found folding donated clothes outside the Defense Fund's doors, said she volunteered because she wants to make community service a lifestyle.

"It makes me tear up and my voice crack because it's sad. We need to be here and there are so many people in need of help," she said. "I'm lucky I have a job. I work way too many hours, but I need to donate some of those hours to help."

Hunger Defense Fund Inc. is a nonprofit humanitarian relief organization that responds to worldwide crises by providing food, water, clothing, blankets and more to children and families in need. The local fund office is located on Ruether Avenue off of Soledad Canyon Road and has seen a significant increase of recipient families in the valley over the last year.

Volunteer Diane Shields of Newhall also folded clothes.

"I could be one of those people in that line needing something," Shields said, referring to the line of food and clothing recipients leading to the Defense Fund's doors.

Shields hopes the momentum of the service day is long-lasting.

"People seem optimistic to make a difference where they can," she said.

Food and clothing recipient Kim Sivic of Newhall welcomed the assistance of local volunteers and organizations like the Hunger Defense Fund.

"We've been having some issues lately and it's been a big help," said Sivic, a mother of three young girls.
The inaugural committee launched USAService.org to help Americans find opportunities to volunteer in their own communities.

Spokeswoman Linda Douglass said there are already nearly 5,000 online listings, and people are welcome to add their own.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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