Grade-schooler Sydney Schefers and her family had been packing rice, making bookmarks and creating pet toys and blankets for local charities for more than an hour Saturday. But by the time she settled down to color a lunch bag for Metro Meals on Wheels, she was only ready for more.

“It feels like we’ve only been here a little bit because we’re having so much fun,” she said.

The Schefers and hundreds of other residents from in and around Savage turned out April 13 for Service Day Saturday, the annual volunteer and community event at City Hall and surrounding buildings.

Founder Shrey Pothini, a freshman at Burnsville High School, said he’d been worried the week’s wintry blast would hurt turnout, but the fifth Service Day’s first hour or two seemed to be the busiest he’d seen.

Scores of families churned through dozens of hands-on activities and nonprofit stations throughout the city campus, making bracelets for Blair’s Tree of Hope, snuggling dogs from Matty’s Heart & Soul Animal Rescue and donating bags upon bags of food to the CAP Agency, to name a few.

“It just doesn’t get any better than this,” said Savage Fire Chief Joel McColl, who made Service Day Saturday his last community event before his retirement.

“What’s the word I’m looking for? It’s mixed emotions,” he said of the occasion, though he added he plans to return for future Service Days as a civilian.

“It’s fun to watch everyone come together,” McColl said.

Families such as the Schefers have made a tradition of coming to the event, and several more said they had come for the first time. Kristina Kenan said she came with her family and her neighbor’s family, eight people in all, after finding out about it on Facebook.

The bunch had always been interested in volunteering, Kenan said, and Service Day seemed like a good way to get started and learn about more chances to do so throughout the year.

“We should help when we can,” she said.

That’s exactly what Shrey hoped for when he started the event with help from his family, Savage Mayor Janet Williams and others, he has said. It’s meant to show how easy it can be to contribute for any age and to build a volunteering habit in the wider community.

Participating groups, mostly local nonprofits and other organizations, have said the event genuinely helps, whether with food for families in need or dental and laundry kits for clients of Avenues for Homeless Youth or People Serving People in Minneapolis.

Harriet Bishop Elementary School Service Club members, their parents and other volunteers kept the event running from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The club holds smaller but similar events to Service Day all year.

Emma Halupszok, a third-grader helping at the pet toy and blanket station, struggled to pick just one favorite service project so far.

“I think everything, actually,” she said finally. “We’re helping so many people.”

On top of the help participants gave, many also said they simply had a good time. Kids could see fire trucks at one end of the campus or plant flower and vegetable seeds in tiny take-home pots with the Wildflower Early Learning Center station at the other.

Kate Bion said she was seriously considering adopting a dog after her family stopped by to see several puppies brought by Matty’s Heart & Soul at the fire station. It was her first time at Service Day, too.

“We’ll definitely be back,” Bion said.

Community editor

Dan Holtmeyer is the community editor for the Prior Lake and Savage papers. He grew up in Nebraska and worked as a journalist in Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas before coming to Minnesota in 2018.

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