Councilman challenges Bronxites to volunteer

The Vacca Volunteers Corps. is kicking off the new year with a challenge for all Bronxites to get more involved in the community.

The group, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the borough through volunteerism, is challenging all Bronxites to pledge 20 hours of service from now until the end of February. Volunteers can work on everything from soup kitchens, to knitting blankets for the elderly.

“This winter, with many people still out of work and the economy still sluggish, I am asking local residents to make their New Year’s resolution a little early and lend a few hours a week to help serve those who need you help the most,” said Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who started the volunteer corps about seven months ago. “Anyone can come and volunteer for anything they’re interested in.”

In an effort to get 1,000 hours of volunteering for organizations across the Bronx, Vacca’s office is hoping to get at least 50 volunteers to pledge their time. So far, nearly a dozen have signed up.

Since the group formed over the summer, members have taken part in blood drives, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. The group has also organized its own events, such as clean-ups along Baisley Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard, graffiti removal projects in the Pelham Parkway neighborhood, and most recently, a gift giveaway for homeless children.

Since many of the events are done outside, the New Years challenge will also help energize the volunteers during the colder, winter months.

For Mona Lisa Ruggiero, pledging her time for the challenge is a way for her to continue her work improving the community during the winter. Already a community activist, Ruggiero volunteers as a block captain, coordinating people’s efforts for projects around Wallace Avenue.

“The winter months are not good for me,” she said, citing severe back pain among other things that have led her to work mainly from her home. “I’ve been watching the Vacca Volunteers for a while and I wanted to volunteer for them. It affects the quality of life in the community.”

Since starting in June, the group has ballooned from a few dozen volunteers to now roughly 300 that regularly participate in the volunteering campaigns. The Volunteer Corps. was originally launched to fill the important gaps left by $1 billion in cuts to the city’s budget.

“Many didn’t know where to go and how to funnel their energies, and now they do,” Vacca said. “This has taken off beyond my expectations. Many have found it very fulfilling. There’s a definite sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that goes along with volunteering.”

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