Cleaning litter, planting gardens, property landscaping—very little is off limits when it comes to “Serve the Burgh.”
The annual event, held over a weekend each May since 2014, is organized by Oakmont’s Riverside Community Church and carried out by a team of community volunteers in conjunction with various regional nonprofits.
The goal, according to Dave Longstreth, the event’s director, is to deploy the teams of volunteers to help maintain neighborhoods in and around Pittsburgh for the betterment of the communities they serve.
“[We want] to go out make a difference in the communities where the people live in the neighborhoods doing what the community needs,” he says. “So, not people going out and saying ‘this is what we're going to do for you.’ But, rather, us reaching out to our communities and asking in our community organizations, our community leaders, nonprofit organizations: ‘What do you need from volunteers?’”
And, though Serve the Burgh is organized by a faith-based organization, one does not have to be of a certain faith or denomination to participate.
“You don't have to be faith-based,” Longstreth says. “You don't have to call yourself a Christian. There are no prerequisites as far as getting involved and serving. In fact, we like that. We like the opportunity to rub shoulders with with all types of people where they are.”
In addition to the litter cleanup, the construction projects and other community ventures that take place during Serve the Burgh weekend, another activity has become a tradition for event volunteers.
“We go out to police stations, fire stations, EMS stations—any first responder type stations—and we send cookies,” Longstreth says. “So, we have tons of people in our church who donate cookies and bake cookies. We put seven dozen cookies into a cookie tray, write some appreciation cards. Then we’ll take this cookie tray and the card and we'll spend some time at the police station and just thank the first responders. We have 35 different stations that we go to.”
Among the volunteers deployed to area neighborhoods each May is Joyce Evans, bookkeeper at Riverside Community Church.
“Each person just takes responsibility for the projects that they are given and their hearts are truly into it,” she says. “They love doing it and they willingly give their time.”
And Evans says she has seen the way Serve the Burgh has made a lasting impact on people’s lives. She points, as an example, to the event’s partnership with the American Legion.
“So they were trying to place all these flags in two very large cemeteries all on their own,” she recalls. “I’ll tell you, some of those veterans stood outside of the American Legion as they watched the cars come in, the volunteers. Tears streaming down their faces. Because some of them were quite elderly and it was difficult for them to place the flags. And they were so touched that people came to help them. [It was] very gratifying.”
For Longstreth, these examples and anecdotes point to what he says is a larger truth—that coming together to collectively tackle community issues is the best way to yield positive results.
“This idea of Serve the Burgh is, ‘don’t put that burden on yourself.’ This mountain is in front of all of us. But it’s this idea of many, many people doing just a little makes a huge difference.”