Six years ago, 50 volunteers gathered to renovate a run-down home in Riverdale for an event coined "Christmas in April."
That gathering would evolve into Good Neighbor Day, a community service event combining the efforts of the city and the University of Maryland. And this year, the event is expecting its largest turnout ever.
More than 700 people have registered to volunteer Saturday for the sixth annual Good Neighbor Day — almost double the number of volunteers who attended last year and well beyond the goal of 500 volunteers, said Sarah D'Alexander, community engagement coordinator.
"We had the goal to make this event a lot bigger than in the past," she said. "It's a combination of having that high goal and following through with the marketing to make it happen."
The use of social media may have contributed to the larger response, said Ceylon Mitchell II, Office of Community Engagement digital marketing and social media manager, who noted that 466 of the volunteers are university students.
"This has easily been the strongest marketing year for Good Neighbor Day," he added.
The event, which is held in partnership with the City of College Park and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, will include 11 volunteer projects, most of which will focus on the environment. For one of the projects, volunteers will be planting white turtleheads on land outside Xfinity Center in hopes of re-establishing the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly, Maryland's state insect, according to a flier advertising the project.
These plants are the hosts for the butterflies' offspring and are essential for their habitat, said Haley Gamertsfelder, volunteer team leader for the turtlehead planting project. In addition to planting, volunteers will be setting up protective fencing to ensure deer and other animals will not destroy the plants.
The senior environmental science and technology major said the initiative is important given the insect's significance to this state.
"In Prince George's County, it doesn't have a viable population anymore," said Gamertsfelder, who is a research intern in this university's entomology department. "It's our state insect. It should be here."
Gamertsfelder added that the interest in — and inclusion of — this conservation project is exciting to see.
"It's weeding, it's fencing, it's a lot of work," she said. "Having a program like this with a lot of people interested in it was definitely a good opportunity — kind of perfect."
Other environment-based projects include clearing up the area around Lake Artemesia, picking up litter and invasive species at Cherokee Lane Elementary School and working on this university's Community Learning Garden.
Not every project is focused on the environment. One project will be a collaboration with Terps Against Hunger, a student organization that organizes and hosts food-packing events with other student and community groups. On Saturday, volunteers will gather in the College Park Community Center to package meals for families that experience hunger in the Washington Metro area.
"We also wanted to come up with a project that would be something a little bit lower impact for people who couldn't really go outside and pull invasive plants or dig holes for trees," D'Alexander said.
Sophomore Gislaine Hoyah, who said she will be volunteering for the Terps Against Hunger collaboration project, noted that Good Neighbor Day provides a way for students at this university to connect with College Park community members.
"For students, it's a good way to reach back out," the community health major said. "A lot of people don't leave the campus. [The community center] is not too far off the campus and people can get some experience in giving back."
In addition to the 11 projects, a food drive is currently being held for the event. There are 55 food-collection boxes on the campus and throughout this city for the food drive. Items will be collected through Friday and delivered on Good Neighbor Day. All donations go to the College Park Community Food Bank.
A GreenDrop truck will be at the community center collecting donations of used clothing and household items on the day as well, and Numi Yoga — one of Good Neighbor Day's sponsors — will be having a free yoga session in the community center after the volunteers have finished their work.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story said Christmas in April was held in College Park. It was held in Riverdale. Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story also said Good Neighbor Day is held in partnership with Prince George's County Department of the Environment. The department is involved in the event but is not a partner. This story has been updated.