Volunteers give back with super service

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ -- Samaritan's Feet International volunteers Jamie Fitzgerald, left, and Aliza Cacho-Sousa wash feet and give new shoes to brother and sister Nick and Kaylin Blanchard at the Lyons Center playground in New Orleans Saturday. The shoes were donated by the worldwide organization to children selected by the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission.
Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ -- Samaritan's Feet International volunteers Jamie Fitzgerald, left, and Aliza Cacho-Sousa wash feet and give new shoes to brother and sister Nick and Kaylin Blanchard at the Lyons Center playground in New Orleans Saturday. The shoes were donated by the worldwide organization to children selected by the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission.

New Orleans kicked off Super Bowl 2013 weekend with Super Saturday of Service, an event drawing 1,400 volunteers to five parks around the city.

Volunteers donated their time at the Lyons Center, Hunter’s Field, Kingswood Playground, Harrell Stadium and Pontchartrain Park for a variety of activities ranging from brush clearing, feet washing and shoe donation to tree planting.

The community initiative was a collaboration among the Host Committee, NFL, City of New Orleans, the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, Young Leadership Council, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans Young Professionals, and the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.

The project was designed to help renovate and beautify the five playgrounds and facilities, adding such amenities as new artificial football turf at Harrell Stadium, a new art and dance facility at the Lyons center and new basketball courts and a computer lab at Hunters Field.

Palmer Park and Hunter’s Field drew the biggest crowds Saturday with 600 and 375 volunteers, respectively.

“As beautiful as we look right now, we’re still in recovery mode,” said Bambi Hall, a member of the Public Relations Committee for the 2013 Super Bowl. “A lot of things are still waiting to be brought online. Our parks and recreation piece is so that the youth have somewhere to go. Not just anywhere, but somewhere that has quality facilities and equipment. This is definitely something the city of New Orleans can appreciate.”

Among the volunteers was Saints long snapper Justin Drescher, who came to volunteer at the Lyons Center with children participating in the NFL’s 60 Minutes of Play Program.

“I enjoy playing with the kids and saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get outside and have fun and enjoy the day. Don’t spend your time cooped up inside,’” Drescher said.

Drescher also helped clear brush with Habitat for Humanity.

“I just really like giving back to the community and I think it’s important for Saints players to be seen out in the community doing good things,” he said.

Kyron Leggins, who grew up in a house that abuts Lyons Park, also contributed his time on Saturday.

“We’re just kind of cleaning up the park, trying to get everything done that needs to be done so that the kids have somewhere to play. I’m a part of the NORDC (New Orleans Recreation Development Commission) family I guess you could say,” said Leggins.

Two of the more notable programs taking part in the Super Saturday of Service were Samaritan’s Feet International and Hike for KaTREEna.

Samaritan’s Feet International personnel, who wash feet and donate shoes to needy children all over the world, had tents at all five parks.

“Our way of serving people is by washing their feet,” said Candy Conrad, a team leader for Samaritan’s Feet International. “Because the water was so cold, we’re using baby wipes, but that’s just the way we try to connect with the kids. The shoes are just kind of an in to helping the kids in the community.”

The organization planned to donate 1,500 pairs of socks and shoes to children on Saturday.

Hike for KaTREEna, formed in 2006, hit a milestone on Saturday when members of the group planted their 20,000th tree, a green ash, in New Orleans and by surpassing Dallas as the city that has planted the most trees in a Super Bowl city.

Dallas had a record of 5,000 trees while New Orleans planted 7,000 this year.

“Who says they do everything bigger in Texas?” Connie Uddo, KaTREEna executive director, wanted to know.