Volunteers give sweat and blood at ShareFest
ShareFest volunteer Victoria Foster Fry picks up donated food from Beth Golowski of Bloomington, at ShareFest Village at The Shoppes at College Hills in Normal, on Saturday Sept. 8, 2007.Pantagraph/STEVE SMEDLEY

BLOOMINGTON - More than 700 volunteers turned out Saturday for the fifth annual ShareFest to bring neighbors together to help their community.

The volunteer event continues to be a beacon of hope in the shadow of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, said Scott Vogel, director of public support for the American Red Cross of the Heartland.

"ShareFest helps turn a negative into a positive. We wouldn't have ShareFest without Sept. 11. Our goal really is to raise awareness and give the community an opportunity to give back to each other," said Vogel.

The Red Cross collected 100 units of blood at ShareFest Village at The Shoppes at College Hills in Normal. More than 600 units were collected during four ShareFest blood drives conducted over the past 10 days.

Disaster preparedness kits were a popular item with visitors to the Red Cross facility. All of the 200 kits donated by the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation were picked up. The kits are designed to help people collect supplies and develop a disaster response plan.

The United Way of McLean County collected 890 boxes of food during brisk donations. Large donations from churches and schools helped the mound of food grow substantially, but small sacks from individuals also were important to the overall project, said Sarah Coffer, United Way vice president.

"It's been great. At the end of the day, we divide the food donations up among 14 local food pantries," said Coffer.

Post-9/11 feeling remains

The need that people originally felt - a desire to come together after a national tragedy - remains, according to Coffer.

"ShareFest was a way of taking care of our community. And we're still taking care of our community," she said.

Donors filled 26 boxes with school supplies for children in local school districts who can't afford the necessities they need for school.

A group of 65 volunteers from State Farm Insurance Cos. participated in the efforts at ShareFest Village.

The sense of pride that comes from helping in the community was growing among 15 Illinois State University freshmen who helped with a landscaping project at Project Oz, one of 24 work projects completed in the community. The students were from a class taught by Kerri Fuller that helps students to bridge the experience of high school with life on campus.

"ShareFest helps them to see that even though this is not their permanent address and they are here only nine months of the year, there are things they can do to help," said Fuller.

Shala Jackson, a student from Fort Wayne, Ind., enjoyed her first experience as a volunteer.

"I'm having fun and getting to know the other students better," said Jackson.

The students spent the morning shoveling rock from the west side of the facility, which provides drug prevention and life-skills training to youth. Plans called for a collection of plants donated by local nurseries to be installed into the garden area.

Project Oz comptroller Zohreh Kavosi said the new landscaped area will be dedicated to the children who have passed through the programs at the facility. Kavosi was optimistic that the ShareFest project would improve the looks of the building and provide a learning opportunity for the university students.

"College kids all need to get their hands dirty and learn what life is all about," said Kavosi.

ShareFest results

722 volunteers

890 boxes of food for 14 food pantries

More than 600 units of blood during four blood drives

24 work projects completed

26 boxes of school supplies

ShareFest blood drives

Two chances remain to donate blood for ShareFest:

3 to 6:30 p.m. Monday at the American Red Cross of the Heartland, Bloomington

2 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Second Presbyterian Church, Bloomington


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