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"People are sometimes surprised to see a teenager doing something good," Nicholas Cobb says. "But it's a natural thing for me." / Reid Horn for USA WEEKEND
Lisa Klein with a Hayward, Calif., newborn, one of 3,500 she has clothed to date. / Labadessa for USA WEEKEND

This year's judges

Charles Gabrielson: President & Publisher, USA WEEKEND Magazine

Brian Gallagher: President and CEO, United Way Worldwide

Michael Havard: Vice President of Marketing, Newman's Own Inc.

Kim Martin: President and General Manager, WE tv and Wedding Central

Michelle Nunn: CEO, Points of Light, Institute & Co-founder, HandsOn Network

Nicole Muller's program has amassed 63,000 pounds of food. / H. Darr Beiser for USA WEEKEND
Delaney, left, and Addie Kenney collected cozy PJs for kinds in a shelter. / Gale Zucker for USA WEEKEND

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Rochester Hills, Mich.: Neighborhood gives back for an amazing 19th year

Here's a tip: When visiting Joanne Marcil's home, watch your stuff. Just ask her husband, Ray, who left a jacket lying around. Joanne grabbed it and sold it at her community's Make A Difference Day flea market. When Ray later asked her about it, she just smiled.

The project began in 1992 as a garage sale, raising $150 to buy high chairs for a soup kitchen. Marcil, 77, had such a good time she enlisted family and friends to create bigger events every year. The two-day market is now tradition, requiring 150 volunteers and five families' garages to store donated items.

In 2010, the sale raised $13,000 for women in crisis, the homeless, people with chronic diseases and others. In 19 years, the project has raised $71,000. It's hard work but well worth it, Marcil says. "I'm doing something to help this world, not just wishing things were better."

$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to The Baldwin Center, Pontiac, Mich.

Allen, Texas: An Eagle Scout soars to the aid of others

When 14-year-old budding philanthropist Nicholas Cobb upped his annual fundraising goal by $1,100, mom Laura was skeptical. Sure, Nicholas had raised $3,400 in 2009 to buy coats for the homeless. But times were tough. And Nicholas wouldn't be able to pitch the fundraiser as his Eagle Scout project this time.

He didn't waver. He told his mom, "I'm raising $4,500," more than enough to buy new coats for everyone at City House, a shelter for abused children. Nicholas set to work soliciting donations on the website of his own non-profit, Comfort and Joy, which helps the homeless each Make A Difference Day. He installed collection jars at a barbershop and a beauty salon and accepted cash from a car wash organized by his cousins.

Nicholas was moved by the plight of the homeless at age 4, when he saw a family living under a bridge. "I didn't understand how that could be," he says. "I've never forgotten it."

On Oct. 23, Nicholas and 20 helpers hit Plano's Burlington Coat Factory, which had opened 90 minutes early and offered a 10% discount. They bought 54 coats. "These kids have been through so much," Nicholas says. "They deserve something new." His mom doubts no longer: "From now on, whatever Nicholas says he's going to do, I'm saying OK!"

$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to Comfort and Joy.

Plymouth, Wis.: Giving camouflage, comfort to troops abroad

Before he was deployed to Iraq in 2006, Todd Richter asked his mother-in-law to make him a quilt. Linda Wieck got out her sewing machine and created her first camo quilt. Todd loved it; so did his fellow soldiers. No wonder: Each quilt is small, lightweight, made from camouflage fabric and can be used as a pillow, for concealment or for shade.

Nearly 9,000 donated quilts later, she says: "I love to sew. Now I have a purpose with my sewing."

On Make A Difference Day, Wieck, 61, and project co-chair Diane Meyer, 58, organized volunteers in four states to sew a record 130 camo quilts. "We make sure there are opportunities for everyone to help," Wieck says.

Year-round, workshops in Plymouth and suburban Milwaukee hum with men cutting fabric and women stitching pieces. Former World War II POW Antone Costa, 86, sews on the binding. Preschoolers and seniors make cards wishing a safe return to the soldiers. Some do not make it home.

Staff Sgt. Amy Krueger, a Wisconsin native, was so impressed with her quilt that she requested 47 more for her unit, awaiting deployment from Fort Hood. Days later, she died in the 2009 massacre there. In response the quilters filled Amy's request in one day.

More often, quilters hear gratifying news. One mother reported her son was finally able to stay warm through the night after he received his quilt.

"This work is more rewarding," Wieck says, "than any job I've been paid to do."

$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to the Camo Quilt Project (camoquiltproject.blogspot.com).

Oakland, Calif.: A mom outfits 110 needy newborns for a year

Lisa Klein had been saving her daughter's baby clothes for a rainy day. That rainy day turned out to be Hurricane Katrina. Klein read about a Louisiana church seeking clothing donations. She grabbed her stash of onesies and put the word out to Bay Area moms. In four days, she collected 200 pounds of clothes. The experience changed her.

Klein thought about local moms who never get baby showers. That led to her own non-profit, Loved Twice, which collects baby clothes and packs them into 10-pound boxes — enough garments to keep an infant cozy through the first year. "A simple, sweet gift," says Klein, 42.

On Make A Difference Day, she organized 45 volunteers at a San Jose Lexus dealership. They packed 400 pounds of clothes and delivered them to a hospital, on top of 700 pounds delivered earlier that week. All told, that will clothe 110 infants for a year.

$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to Loved Twice.

Valley Stream, N.Y.: Second-graders learn a tender lesson in giving

As AnnMarie Castrogiovanni scrolled through Facebook last September, she paused to admire a first-day-of-school photo of Jack Perlungher, 5. Kindergarten would be a big change for Jack, who'd been attending The Morgan Center, a preschool for kids with cancer.

That first day would be Jack's last. Later that week, his father posted: "No more needles, no more doctors." Jack died on Sept. 13.

A grief-stricken Castrogiovanni, 48, realized Oct. 23, Make A Difference Day, would have been Jack's 6th birthday. An idea grew: She and fellow second-grade teachers at Ogden Elementary asked their 93 students to do good deeds in exchange for cash to benefit the preschool. They visited the elderly, gardened, cat-sat — raising $1,300 to buy a laptop in honor of Jack's love of computers. When students learned of their award, they screamed in joy. "What they won," Castrogiovanni says, "was the good feeling that comes from helping others."

$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to The Morgan Center, Hicksville, N.Y.

Grand Isle, La.: Restoring a beloved beach

Elmer's Island is a rare refuge for Louisianans. One of the few public beaches accessible by road, it's an untamed place to wander, fish or watch the sandpipers take flight. It also has been battered by hurricanes and other natural disasters over the years.

Last April 16, as science director for the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Natalie Snider, 33, led 50 volunteers in building a 2,000-foot sand fence to strengthen the shoreline. They planned to return the next weekend to plant erosion-fighting grasses. But four days later, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico and closing the island.

Make A Difference Day was their chance to finish what they started. When Snider and 62 volunteers returned, they saw no oil. But as they walked the beach, it began seeping into their footprints, having sunk beneath the sand. The sight renewed their determination. They built 600 feet of fencing and planted 6,000 plugs of bitter panicum. This new beach grass will provide habitat to wildlife and help prevent erosion.

Even without the oil catastrophe, such restoration work is vital. "These barrier islands serve as speed bumps during storm surges," Snider says. "By strengthening Elmer's Island, we protect the marshes and communities beyond it."

$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Baton Rouge.

Charlottesville, Va.: Teen spearheads national effort to fight hunger

Nicole Muller knew hunger haunted many American homes. But when she read an article about hunger in her own community, she decided to act. Nicole started an annual food drive called Neighbors-4-Neighbors. On Make A Difference Day 2009, she collected and donated 2.5 tons of food to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. But the 17-year-old honor student knew she could do even better.

For Make A Difference Day 2010, Nicole went national. "I e-mailed friends and family around the country, urging them to donate to food banks," she says. In states where she didn't have contacts, she e-mailed the governor's office. It worked. She and her helpers collected 7.7 tons of food in 43 states.

$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, Verona, Va.

Dubuque, Iowa: A community rallies against winter's blast

Armed with caulk guns, insulation and neighborly concern, 225 volunteers from the Dubuque Area Weatherization Challenge worked to "keep the weather outside" on Make A Difference Day. They repaired and insulated 70 homes of elderly, disabled and low-income residents, making the homes warmer and more energy-efficient for the coming winter.

Teams of volunteers included executives, retirees, Scouts, casino employees, nuns and even Mayor Roy Buol. Many hugs were shared. "Creating connections with our neighbors is the best part," says co-organizer Laura Roussell.

$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to Operation: New View Community Action Foundation.

Guilford, Conn: Sisters' 'almost sleepover' awakens their friends to the needs of others

At 8 and 9, Addie and Delaney Kenney have started a social movement with some pretty tough requirements. Participants must like hanging out in pajamas, dancing, eating ice cream and helping kids in need. Somehow, they had no trouble recruiting 36 girls to attend their movement's signature event: an "almost sleepover" for Make A Difference Day. Admission price: a new pair of PJs for kids at a shelter. The guests made treats for seniors, crafted holiday decorations for hospital patients and collected $80 for charity.

The best part: delivering 70 pairs of pajamas to the shelter.

The sisters have asked Malia and Sasha Obama to sign on for a nationwide "almost sleepover"; next Make A Difference Day. Learn more at uscsnow.org.

$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to the Life Haven shelter, New Haven, Conn.

Auburn, Maine: McDonald's serves up a supersized day of good

Would the prospect of a free Egg McMuffin be enough to get you up at 6 on a Saturday to spend the day cleaning up manure? Rinck Advertising figured it couldn’t hurt.

On Oct. 23, Rinck’s Kevin Mitchell and Laura Davis, along with Maine McDonald’s Owner/Operators, staged five projects statewide. Each served a non-profit funded by Ronald McDonald Houses of Maine, Rinck’s pro-bono client.

Among the day’s work: Volunteers repaired docks at a camp for kids with disabilities. College softball players, senior ladies and others washed windows and baked casseroles at two Ronald McDonald Houses. Mitchell says plans are underway for six projects this year. “We’re excited to create six times the impact!”

$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman’s Own goes to Ronald Mc-Donald House Charities of Maine.

More In Make A Difference Day

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.