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Volunteers to deliver smiles for Valentine's Day

"When you choose to serve -- whether it's your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood -- you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That's why it's called the American dream." - President Barack Obama

Feeling delayed campaign-bandwagon hangover and itching to get out and volunteer? Find yourself wishing you could "pay it forward" some how, some where, some way? Have a ton of community service to work off after that random late night at Rich's?

No matter what your reason for wishing or needing to do so, Volunteer San Diego can connect you with just about any volunteer opportunity you can imagine.

Volunteer San Diego (VSD) is a 501(c)3 non-profit that services the needs of all of San Diego county. In 2002 two organizations (Volunteer Center of San Diego County, and San Diego Cares) merged to create VSD.

Their mission: To create a lasting community impact through meaningful individual and group volunteer action.

In order to meet that mission, they canvass, recruit and then connect volunteers with other non-profit organizations. In 2008, VSD put an astonishing 51,000 volunteers to work, helping over 100,000 San Diegans.

Rich Easter, VSD's Development Coordinator, gave credit for VSD's stellar year to President Obama for his staunch support and encouragement of volunteerism and public service during his campaign and since he's been in office.

In fact, VSD has seen a 45% increase in volunteer activity just since Obama took office.

"That's a pretty serious number," said Easter.

VSD has 700 partner volunteer organizations, and SDGLN thinks that's a pretty serious number, too.

When recently contacted for some help by longtime locally owned & operated San Diego Flowers by Coley in Kearny Mesa, VSD quickly pooled over 87 volunteers, ready to take to the streets this weekend (starting today!), making special Valentine's deliveries all over the county. Eager helpers will be working two shifts per day Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Natasha Lambrechtse, assistant manager at Coley's, said there will be 500 deliveries today alone.

"Senders like their recipients to receive the flowers at work, so today will be the busiest," she explained. "We may see 300 or even up to 400 per day [the rest of the weekend], because it always picks up at the last minute.

"We've worked with Volunteer San Diego in the past," Lambrechtse continued, "but we thought we'd try it on a much larger scale this time. It is very beneficial to us, and a fun experience for everyone involved. The volunteers get to bring smiles to people."

In order to give back, Coley's is donating almost $5.00 per delivery to VSD as thanks for the great support. With a potential for 1300 deliveries over the three days, that's a pretty serious number.

If this weekend runs as well as expected, Coley's plans to partner with VSD again very soon, ramping up another large scale volunteer force for Mother's Day in May. If you want to help out, call Volunteer San Diego and get on the roster.

Easter noted that after all the recent bailouts, citizens are looking more and more for corporate responsibility. Gone are the days of elaborate corporate Spa getaways and expensive executive golf outings. Corporations are now expected to "give back" and VSD helps them find ways to do so.

One example is a current project for Haiti. An unnamed corporation has hired VSD to manage a "shoes for Haiti" project. The corporation paid for the shoes and the materials, VSD is gathering together the volunteers, will manage the shoe decorating and then orchestrate the logistics of getting the shoes to Haiti.

Easter was quick to assert that although volunteers offer their time for free, in reality, volunteers are not "free." There is time and money involved in managing and placing this free help. "It costs us $21 to place 1 volunteer," he explains.

Starting next week, they are launching a "Give the Gift of Service" campaign.

Beginning February 16th and running through May 1st, the general public is encouraged to "sponsor a volunteer" by donating to VSD in increments of $21. For every $100 individually received, donors will be entered into a contest for (2) 7 day cruises on either the Mexican Riviera or in the Caribbean, thanks to Holland America.

Donations will be cumulative over the period, offering donors the opportunity to give a little each paycheck to qualify.

Those interested in stepping up to volunteer will find two ways to be matched with opportunities on VSD's website. The first is through a data base that allows a "project" search, using keywords by zip code or area. They also have a project calendar which lays out all the opportunities by date.

The heart of a volunteer is not measured in size, but by the depth of the commitment to make a difference in the lives of others." - DeAnn Hollis

As President Obama says, "Let's renew America, together."

To keep up with what Volunteer San Diego is up to, follow them on facebook and twitter.

Morgan Hurley can be reached at 877-727-5446, x710 or at morgan@sdgln.com