Whether it's cleaning a park, stuffing a truck with food or packing school supplies, residents all over Wheaton will be making a difference Saturday.
What began 12 years ago as a campaign to encourage people to help others by raking a neighbor's leaves or donating blood has evolved into hundreds of volunteers banding together at events and drives throughout October and culminating Saturday.
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"Make a Difference Day is all about serving others and having fun while you're doing it," said Laurie Swanson Oberhelman, who heads the stuff-a-truck event for the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce and co-chairs the Community Relations Commission's Make a Difference Day event. "It's so nice to have one day where you know everyone is thinking about one thing: making the day better."
Throughout the month the commission has collected care package items for 835 members of Wheaton's adopted Army infantry battalion, "The Big Red One."
The drive will continue through Veterans Day, Nov. 11, with collection boxes placed at city hall, Wheaton Public Library and the American Legion to gather packs of gum, powdered drink packets, handheld video games and other items.
Students from more than a dozen area schools have been pursuing Make a Difference projects, including collecting school supplies for people in need. They've also been gathering food for the "Stuff-a-Truck with Food" collection of nonperishable items, led by the chamber on behalf of the People's Resource Center.
"I actually take the truck around and pick up the food and I really feel the kids' satisfaction in being a part of something that has nothing to do with school work or activities," Oberhelman said. "All it has to do with is you giving something back. The kids get so excited to bring food out and load it."
For those looking to be more actively involved Saturday, volunteers will be trimming, weeding and raking Adams Park from 9 to 11:30 a.m.
Everyone's efforts will be celebrated during a wrap-up event, the Thanks Tons Festival, from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the IIT campus at 201 E. Loop Drive.
Last year, volunteers collected more than 40,000 pounds of food, enough to fill the People's Resource Center's pantry for the entire month of November.
"We're going to reach that level and keep going this year," Oberhelman said. "There's no limit to the giving spirit of Wheaton."
More information about all of the projects is on the city's website at www.wheaton.il.us/MADD.