Time flies when you're having fun, and for Claire Nelson, that included pulling weeds and spreading mulch in a central Toledo community garden Friday.
"This is actually a fast day," the St. Ursula Academy junior from Sylvania said as she and about 20 schoolmates took their lunch break after more than two hours of cleanup. The project was one of many the school's students and staff undertook across the Toledo area as part of its annual Day of Caring.
In previous years, Miss Nelson painted walls at the Catholic Club and picked up litter in International Park.
"Before I came here, I had no knowledge of Toledo Grows at all," she said of the agency that manages the garden at Glenwood and Woodruff avenues where she worked Friday. "Day of Caring exposes you to things you didn't even know about."
The Day of Caring was the first for freshman Katie Siebenaler of South Toledo, who busied herself with a weed puller uprooting dandelions.
"It's important to do service because it helps other people in need," she said. "Sometimes we get wrapped up in ourselves and don't think about other people."
Katie Welling of Bedford Township, who was accompanied by her mother, Lori Welling, said, "It's fun to come out here during the school day, and help out people we don't even know. I feel better about myself. It's not like we're being paid, we're just helping others."
Said Mrs. Welling, "It's giving back to the community and giving back to the school too."
The garden just up Monroe Street from the Toledo Museum of Art was one of three Toledo Grows sites where St. Ursula students volunteered.
Other teams worked at places including the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, Cherry Street Mission, East Toledo Family Center, Rosary Cathedral, Little Sisters of the Poor, Sunshine Children's Home, Toledo/Northwestern Ohio Food Bank, and the Toledo State Hospital Cemetery Reclamation Project. Overall, the school's nearly 600 students and faculty donated more than 2,000 person-hours of service during the Day of Caring event, now in its fifth year.
Susan Rapp, a community organizer and horticulturalist with Toledo Grows, said the St. Ursula crew cleared debris from the garden's main entrance path, weeded a garden plot and other nearby areas, and did lots of other tidying on the half-acre plot.
"They did an amazing job -- a lot of work in a short amount of time," said Ms. Rapp, noting that as one of the biggest of Toledo Grows' 125 sites, "this garden always needs work."
"It's pretty cool. I wish I would have been involved with something like that when I was their age," said Jessi Zabarsky, a South End resident who planned to seed squash and potatoes in part of the planting bed that the students had helped clear. She already had rows of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and turnips marked at one end of the bed.
Although Toledo's heavy rainfall earlier last week had softened the soil, Miss Siebenaler found pulling dandelions to be harder than she expected. But everyone was glad that after five straight days of rain, sunny skies had greeted the Day of Caring.
"We prayed like crazy to get the rain to stop for today," said Sister Margaret Manion, an Ursuline nun from northwest Toledo who was one of the group's leaders.
Alyssa Monnette, a senior from Holland, said she had enjoyed going to different places, and working with different schoolmates, during her four years at St. Ursula and had found community service to be rewarding. "I'll keep it up in college," she vowed.