But volunteers this year in Minneapolis and St. Paul rolled up their sleeves for a slightly different project – building 100 bedroom dressers for families in need.
Initially, the project was born of necessity, said Comcast Public Relations Specialist Jamie Yanisch. "April in Minnesota is often cold and rainy – not the ideal weather for outdoor Cares Day projects," Jamie explained. "We’re always looking for projects large groups can do inside, which was how we first connected with Bridging in 2009."
Bridging is a local nonprofit that provides furniture and household goods to area families transitioning out of homelessness and poverty. In 2013, the organization helped furnish 4,500 households. In prior years, Cares Day volunteers worked in Bridging’s warehouse, sorting donations and loading trucks. Some of the handier volunteers had built Ikea dressers, each year averaging four or five complete units.
When Jamie met with Bridging to plan this year’s project, she had a big idea – she wanted to buy and build 100 Ikea dressers. As Bridging’s Executive Director Sara Sternberger explained, dressers are one of their most in-demand items. "If you think about it, we usually put our dressers through a lot before donating or discarding them," Sara said. "So if our families need dressers, we have to build them ourselves."
Jamie realized she was making a huge commitment, and that she would need a lot of help to make it happen. That’s why the first person she called was Comcast Executive Administrator Jandra Birr, whom she had worked with on several employee programs.
Jandra and her husband, Tim, are longtime Comcast Cares Day volunteers with six consecutive Cares Days under their belts, including two spent at Bridging. "I wanted to do more this year, so I volunteered to lead a project," Jandra said. "After Jamie told me what she had in mind, I realized she wasn’t going to take it easy on me my first time out!"
Jandra’s first job was to find a space that could accommodate 160 volunteers – and their finished dressers. That’s where husband Tim, an assistant fire chief in the neighboring city of Vadnais Heights, stepped in and volunteered his firehouse. Jandra also relied on her extensive Comcast contacts to help them hit their volunteer goal. "Jandra knows almost everyone in the Twin Cities Region," Jamie said. "She was able to get technicians, call center employees, and regional executives to show up."
Comcast Cares Day project leader Jandra Birr looks on as volunteers learn how to assemble the dressers.
On the morning of the project, volunteers were split into groups of four or five, handed tools, and shown pictures of a finished dresser as a roadmap. After that, they were off. "For most of the groups, there was a learning curve," Jandra said. "Their first dresser might have taken 45 minutes to build, but by their third one, they were averaging 15 minutes from start to finish." As a finishing touch, teams wrote short messages on labels and stuck them to the backs of the dressers, wishing the recipient families well in their new homes.
Jamie and Jandra’s project is already creating ripple effects in the community. The city manager of Vadnais Heights was so impressed with this year’s effort that he committed the city to building an additional 100 dressers next year. The project has also inspired three call center employees to continue to give back to Bridging as regular volunteers.
"The best part about our project with Bridging – and any Cares Day project, really – is that it’s only limited by the enthusiasm of our volunteers," Jamie said. "Luckily for Jandra and me, we had a group that showed up ready to work hard for families that needed an extra hand."
Wonder what 160 volunteers building 100 dressers looks like? Find out more about Jandra and Jaime’s project in the video below.