A unique social aspect will be added to the United Way of Fort Smith Area’s annual Day of Caring event, which will continue a long-running tradition of community strength and positive actions, according to one official.


Despite the presence of COVID-19, the United Way’s 27th annual Day of Caring — Social Distance Style will take place Thursday via social media, said Eddie Lee Herndon, president and CEO of the United Way of Fort Smith Area. For the free, all-ages event, participants are asked to post photos of them volunteering, a photo of their favorite Day of Caring T-shirt and/or a photo of their favorite past Day of Caring event, he said.


“It should be a fun day, so we’re asking for people to invite their family, friends and coworkers to flood social media with photos of some of their favorite memories of volunteering,” Herndon said.


Held each year during National Volunteer Week, Day of Caring usually involves area and visiting volunteers joining together to work on and complete a number of “much-needed” community projects for area agencies, he said. This year’s in-person Day of Caring event initially was scheduled for Thursday before COVID-19 forced United Way officials and supporters to change the event into a social media event, Herndon said.


“Initially, we had over 100 projects and many people lined up for this year’s Day of Caring, but that was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “So for (Thursday), we’re asking people to post online photos of themselves and/or their favorite Day of Caring shirts to continue the tradition.”


Mitzy Little, United Way of Fort Smith Area marketing director, also hopes tradition will be strong Thursday.


“Day of Caring is so important to our agencies,” she said. “Their budgets do not always allow them to have someone paint, do lawn maintenance, have their building power washed and so on. When our volunteers come in and do these projects for them, it is such a blessing.”


Facebook posts for Thursday’s Day of Caring can be tagged “United Way of Fort Smith,” while Instagram and Twitter posts can be tagged by typing @unitedwayfsa. For social media platforms where hashtags can be used, participants are asked to use the hashtags #UnitedWayFsa and #SocialDistanceStyle, Herndon said


Participants also will be able to purchase a Day of Caring 2020 — Social Distance Style T-shirt to commemorate the event. The price and payment options for the shirts will be announced Thursday, and proceeds from the purchase of the T-shirts will benefit the COVID-19 Community Response Fund. The fund is assisting agencies and organizations to help provide for individuals and families who have been impacted by the ongoing pandemic.


The COVID-19 Community Response Fund also helps provide assistance needed for people to stay in their homes and keep food on the table, with the response fund’s support being in the form of “micro-grants” that currently are up to $1,000 each. Those wishing to donate to the COVID-19 Community Response Fund can text “response” to 91999, visit online at unitedwayfortsmith.org or mail a check to United Way of Fort Smith Area, 120 North 13th St. Fort Smith, AR 72901.


Herndon predicted that many of those who will participate in Thursday’s Day of Caring — Social Distance Style project will be long-time volunteers.


“We have some people who participated in Day of Caring years and years ago, which will make it exciting to see all of the social media pictures of the different Day of Caring T-shirts through the years,” he said.


Herndon and Little both said they hope to reschedule the in-person Day of Caring projects later this year.


“Day of Caring is a vital event for our local non-profit agencies,” Herndon said. “Over the past 26 years, the value of our volunteer hours has reached well over $1 million. We hope to reschedule a time when it is safe for our volunteers and agencies.


“And we think Thursday’s Day of Caring — Social Distance Style event will be fun,” he added. “This will be something to offer some sunshine for everyone in this tense, difficult time.”