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Volunteers planted flowers at Cesar E. Chavez School in Bakersfield, Calif.
Volunteers planted flowers at Cesar E. Chavez School in Bakersfield, Calif. / Juan Guevara, City of Bakersfield
In Washington, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack put the finishing touches on a playground "adventure tube." / Toby Jorbin for USA WEEKEND
Other volunteers decorated a sidewalk. / Toby Jorbin for USA WEEKEND


From Cub Scouts in California to Cabinet secretaries in Washington, millions of people nationwide and around the world went into action on the 20th Make A Difference Day, Saturday, Oct. 23. Sponsored by USA WEEKEND, in partnership with HandsOn Network and Newman's Own, Make A Difference Day is the nation's largest day of volunteerism.

"There's an excitement here," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said as he helped build a playground at Hyde Leadership Public Charter School in the nation's capital.

Vilsack was one of 500 volunteers, including three other Obama Cabinet members — Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — and their families who helped with the one-day playground build. The project was organized by KaBOOM!, a non-profit that has built 1,894 playgrounds since first participating in Make A Difference Day 15 years ago.

Also in Washington, Disney stars Madison Pettis and Corbin Bleu helped kids wrap toys during the launch of generationOn, a global youth service initiative created by Points of Light Institute and Hasbro. Volunteer Madelyn Edwards, 9, who put the finishing touches on gifts destined for Toys for Tots, described her experience as the "best day ever!"

It was a good day for a lot of Americans. Here's a sampling of efforts covering needs big and small:

In Elmer's Island, La., 30 volunteers installed fencing and planted 7,500 starts of dune grass to save an ecosystem battered by hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Up the coast in New Orleans, the NBA Hornets held a basketball clinic after the dedication of a new court in Digby Park by All-Star guard Chris Paul and Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Residents got into the game by sprucing up the area.

"On Make A Difference Day, you can give back in so many ways," Paul said.

In Cincinnati, the Jones siblings — Maggie, 7, Sam, 5, and Gracie, 3 — took part in their second Make A Difference Day drive with their grandmother Kathy Owens. Going door-to-door with their red wagon, the foursome collected and delivered six boxes of supplies for the Saint Joseph Home, a facility for the profoundly disabled. They also donated $50 in cash — the proceeds from two summer lemonade stands.

Across the USA and around the world, financial conglomerate Citi recruited more than 45,000 volunteers in 100-plus countries for its Global Community Day.

Californians tackled thousands of community needs. In Santa Cruz, nearly 1,000 people painted schools, collected food and more. More than 2,000 went to work in Bakersfield, planting flowers and recycling 10,000-plus pounds of e-waste, an event organized by the city's Solid Waste Division and Keep Bakersfield Beautiful.

Said spokeswoman Jessica Felix: "Make A Difference Day has become a tradition here. People look forward to it year after year."

We are reviewing all your good deeds and are narrowing the search for 10 National Make A Difference Day Awards and three City Awards. The 13 recipients will each receive a $10,000 grant for their charities from Newman's Own. The honorees will be announced in USA WEEKEND in April.

The next Make A Difference Day is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011.

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Make A Difference Day, the largest national day of helping others, is sponsored annually by USA WEEKEND Magazine and its 800 carrier newspapers. Make A Difference Day takes place on the 4th Saturday in October each year.