United Way of Central Iowa’s Day of Action is the day of the year when we pull together as a community to harness our collective strength as volunteers. In a normal year, we would be volunteering in person. We would read to students, build houses, clean-up playgrounds, paint a mural, or a myriad of other activities.

This year was different. This year we are all living a new reality. We can’t safely get together in large groups. We can’t volunteer in schools. With so many “can’t”s, it was tempting to cancel our Day of Action altogether and chalk it up to another thing canceled because of the pandemic.

But United Way of Central Iowa is committed to our community and our partners.

Just as we have done in other ways this year, we adapted our Day of Action offerings to safely meet the needs of central Iowans. We developed online opportunities. We developed socially distanced outdoor opportunities. We developed ways to volunteer from home or from your personal workspace at the office. We pulled together in new ways we never needed to imagine in past years.

United Way is incredibly proud of what was accomplished on Day of Action – what YOU accomplished – as we brought our community together during this unprecedented time.

Day of Action Photos

Here are some highlights:
Stuff the Bus – With the help of our sponsors Athene USA and SHAZAM, 23,188 children’s books were collected. The books ranged from preschool to high school reading level. We distributed them to 90 different schools, non-profits, and daycares who serve our youngest central Iowans who don’t otherwise have access to this important resource for educational success.

The words of our recipient agencies say it best. Here is what Taylor Cullum, site manager at Childlike Grace Daycare, said: “Thank you so much for the books! I just finished going through the boxes and I’m absolutely overjoyed to share these with all my kiddos! …You guys truly don’t know how grateful these books have made me and will make the kids feel after such a weird year. This is such an awesome event to be a part of!”

Stuff the Bus Photos

Conversations Powered by Purpose This innovative activity was a series of one-hour virtual volunteer and networking sessions, where participants connected with fellow central Iowans and had guided conversations around finding purpose in their lives. Participants dialed into a virtual meeting and helped each other find and live their purposes while sharing and gaining support.

We had very positive responses for the activity. For example, Brianne Sanchez, Director of Nonprofit Relations, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, said: "I got a chance to participate in one of the Powered by Purpose conversations for today’s Day of Action, and I wanted to commend [the United Way of Central Iowa] team for putting together the opportunity. I walked away with two new connections. It’s rare to leave a Zoom with MORE energy than when I first logged in, but this put some pep into my day."

Notes of Encouragement – This opportunity was a way for people to write a note of encouragement to someone in the community who might be struggling right now from the comfort of home. United Way collected the notes online, printed them, and delivered them to our partner agencies.

One of the touching notes that came in and will brighten the day of a home-bound senior said: “It's easy to feel alone during the pandemic, but know that even when our community can't be together in person, we are together in spirit. We are here with you. Thinking of you and wishing you health and happiness even in the midst of these trying times.”

Literacy Kits – As an example of a traditional volunteer activity that was adjusted to meet the current needs of our volunteers, Literacy Kits were provided to companies who could offer the opportunity to their employees to do at their desks or while working from home. Literacy Kits are packets containing a children's book; several related activities perfect for interaction and imagination; instructions for the parent or reading mentor; and a personal note of encouragement from the volunteer to the child receiving the kit. Completed kits are donated to childcare centers, schools, after-school programs, and other programs serving children in families with low-income. Literacy Kits help the young students build literacy and reading skills, while adding to (or starting) their libraries at home. Employees from five companies put together 700 kits on Day of Action. We will continue to gather kits throughout the year.

Finally, a few of our nonprofit partners were able to offer socially distanced, opportunities for outdoor volunteers to complete while wearing masks. Next year, these opportunities directly serving our partners will hopefully be back in full force.

These are big wins for our community. Thank you to our central Iowa volunteers who helped make Day of Action 2020 a success!

TAGS: Volunteer, Day of Action

Ramona Gaukel

About The Author: Ramona Gaukel

Ramona, or Moni, Gaukel is Volunteer Engagement Officer for United Way of Central Iowa