ATLANTA — 20 April 2009 — Hundreds of thousands of volunteers from community and faith-based organizations will strengthen communities and bring relief to those struggling because of the economic downturn in an unprecedented single day of service across 11 southern states on 25 April 2009.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints organized the project under the direction of Elder Walter F. González, who presides over church affairs in the southern United States. He challenged over 665 congregations from Florida to Indiana to join forces with other faiths and civic organizations to render significant community service in what is being called “The Helping Hands and Linking Arms Project.”

Elder González said: “It’s powerful when like-minded people join together to meet a wide spectrum of needs in diverse communities. We can bring help and hope to others no matter what their circumstances.”

“The impact of these feet on the ground during the day of service will do in one day what takes us four months as an organization to accomplish, “said Jack Morgan, CEO for the Northeast Chapter of the American Red Cross in Jacksonville, Florida. “We are hoping that this partnership is not just about this one day but about our future working together to prepare the community for disasters and to help with response when disaster strikes.”

The project includes gleaning crops, restocking community food banks, holding career fairs and blood drives, cleaning and repairing community facilities, building a Habitat for Humanity home, planting container gardens for low-income families, sponsoring a 5k run for charity and even preparing Mother’s Day gifts for homeless children. In Tennessee volunteers will prepare and plant eight vacant lots in the inner city with vegetable gardens that will be cared for by neighborhood organizations, and in North Carolina foster children will be “adopted” for the day of service to show them the benefits of giving to others.

“When I heard about the day of service, I thought it was a perfect way to serve,” said Stacy Somers, president of the Wellington Citizens Volunteer Organization in Florida. “It will be a great activity for adults and children, singles and families. This kind of project is what volunteerism should be all about.”

The project will not only help community service organizations but also everyday people struggling to serve and make ends meet. For example , Gwendolyn Brown-Johnson is a grandmother in Charlotte, North Carolina, who noticed that several children in her neighborhood were not getting an evening meal and invited them in for a warm dinner. That was 10 years ago. Today, she has 70 children joining her every night for dinner. She calls her initiative the Parkview Kids Café. Brown-Johnson believes it is her calling to take care of these children as the loving grandmother they might not otherwise have in their lives.

“The only way I can feed 70 children every night is through generous donations from so many organizations,” Brown-Johnson said. “Second Harvest Food Bank provides the food the children need, but we also rely on churches, such as yours, to provide the extras that bless the lives of these children with food for the weekends, day camps and field trips.” 

Volunteers will stock Brown-Johnson’s “emergency pantry” with jars of jam and jelly, meals children can microwave, and powdered milk. From this emergency pantry, she fills a backpack for every child and sends it home with him or her on Friday night, ensuring that each child will have food for the weekend. The volunteers will also paint Brown-Johnson’s dining room and help with cleaning.

In several states, the project will focus on helping communities that were hard hit by past hurricanes to become better prepared. Two thousand volunteers will distribute disaster prevention materials to 40,000 homes in Florida, and hundreds of young people will install smoke alarms and reflective address signs for the elderly in Louisiana as part of a newly enhanced 911 service.

Day of Service on the Web : For a list of projects by state, go to www.DayofService.org.

Facebook : Join the day of service Facebook group here.

Twitter : Follow the day of service on Twitter here: You can also use the #serviceday hash tag to join the conversation about the Day of Service on Twitter.

YouTube : Participants in the day of service will upload videos to YouTube here.

This article was prepared by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Newsroom at lds.org.