Sign ups now open for annual Rake a Difference event

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — As the fall leaves prepare to change, one regional organization is planning for an annual service project.

Sign-ups are currently open for United Way of Southwest Michigan’s annual Rake a Difference event. During the one-day event on Thursday, Nov. 12, volunteers will rake and bag leaves and clean gutters for seniors in need of assistance across Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties. Both seniors in need and volunteers can sign up through Oct. 16 at uwsm.org/rake-a-difference or by calling (269) 932-3554.

“Before winter hits, raking your yard and cleaning out your gutters is a vital step to ensuring spring snowmelt does not cause water damage to your home or lawn,” said Jennifer Tomshack, marketing and communication manager for United Way of Southwest Michigan. “Many area seniors try to accomplish this work on their own, putting them at risk for falls and serious injury. United Way of Southwest Michigan invites our community to give them a helping hand when prepping for winter.”

The Nov. 12 event will mark the 10th annual Rake a Difference hosted by United Way Southwest Michigan.

“It’s exciting,” Tomshack said of reaching the milestone. “We just think about how many seniors we at United Way have helped over the years. It’s overwhelming sometimes. It’s so heartwarming.”

In 2019 alone, 780 volunteers cleared the yards of 250 area seniors during Rake a Difference.

“I’m always so impressed with how people show up and get it done,” she said. “It’s nice to see people who care so much about their neighbors.”

Tomshack said she has enjoyed watching Rake a Difference grow and evolve over the years. One of the most fun ways it has grown has been through its annual #rakeadifference photo contest, she said. For the competition, volunteers are encouraged to snap a photo on Nov. 12, and Facebook users will vote on their favorite posted photo. The winner will receive a trophy and prize package. Photos must be posted to Facebook using the hashtag #RAKEADIFFERENCE to be eligible to win.

“It’s really fun,” she said. “People get so creative with the photos. I can just see everyone is having a blast.”

This year’s event will continue all of Rake a Difference’s traditions, including the photo contest. However, things may look a little different than long-time volunteers are used to, as United Way will be adhering to recommended COVID-19 guidelines on the day.

“Of course, we will be taking every precaution we are required to take come November,” Tomshack said. “This year, we’ve learned we have to adapt. Whatever happens to be in place at that time is what we will do.”

No matter how different things might look, Tomshack said she would encourage southwest Michigan residents to sign up for this year’s Rake a Difference, saying that both volunteers and seniors in need benefit from the experience.

“It’s a great way to connect with the community,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for volunteers to make an instant impact in a way that you can understand because you connect immediately with the person you just helped.”

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