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About 550 volunteers assembled playground equipment, spread gravel and undertook other community chores Wednesday as part of the annual United Way of Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties Day of Caring.

“Today is about teamwork, collaboration, connection and compassion,” said Brooke Fisher-Clark, United Way executive director. “There are so many layers of impact on days like this.”

Volunteers donated not just time, but also hygiene supplies for local homeless youth, Fisher-Clark said. The supplies will be given to local schools to distribute.

“Today is just about drawing a big heart around the community,” Fisher-Clark said. “This is my favorite day.”

United Way board president John Paul told the volunteers that “in a few short hours, you’re going to make a huge impact in your community.” Volunteers worked from 9:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. after a pre-project rally at 8:30 a.m.

Many local businesses sent teams of volunteers, including Red Leaf Coffee. A team of five from the local company spent the day working at Memorial Park Drive and building playground equipment at Broadway Early Learning Center, Ann Lucas, a Red Leaf employee, said. The team included Red Leaf Coffee owner Ray Vandervalk.

Lucas said this is the first year the company has participated in the Day of Caring, because they recently learned about the event from Fisher-Clark.

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“We love giving back to the community,” Lucas said.

Other participating businesses included Red Kitchen, JH Kelly, Kaiser Permanente, Woodland Truck Line, Inc., Fibre Federal Credit Union, Waste Control Recycling and Cowlitz Electric.

The Day of Caring started off with a Patriot Day ceremony to honor first responders, as this year’s event fell on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Lucas said the ceremony was an inspiring way to start the day.

“It got everybody motivated,” Lucas said. “It really showed why it’s so important to get involved.”

The Day of Caring is supported by three big annual sponsors, Weyerhaeuser Co., Nippon Dynawave Packaging and Norpac, Fisher-Clark said, as well as many smaller sponsors.

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