Two decades ago Marcia Bullard, editor of USA Weekend Magazine, used her publication to encourage readers to take one day and help out their neighbors. On that inaugural day, more than 70,000 participated in local volunteer projects throughout the nation. Bullard’s “Make a Difference Day” has blossomed over the years into a date when millions of people across the country help millions more, right where they live and work. Organizers report it is now “the nation’s largest day of service.”

USA Weekend undertakes promotion of the event with help from HandsOn Network, the volunteer-centered branch of Points of Light Institute. In addition to HandsOn Network’s backing, Newman’s Own is donating $130,000 to the Make a Difference Day cause this year; organizations are invited to submit their projects, and from the entries thirteen agencies will be chosen to receive $10,000 each. Other 2010-2011 teammates this year include: WE tv, The Corporation for National and Community Service, Cisco, Citi, and NBA Cares.

Make a Difference Day 2010 was held October 23. Here are just a few of the many projects accomplished by the people who headed out to be part of this nationwide, yet grassroots, effort.

Food Drive & Promotion of Habitat for Humanity Fundraiser

Laramie, WY – The Laramie Boomerang reports that students from the University of Wyoming participated in Make-a-Difference-Day Spooky Sprint, launched by the school’s Service Leadership and Community Engagement office. The team’s goal was to garner non-perishables from community members. “We met some really interesting folks,” says Kristen Owen, an Americorps VISTA member, “some who invited us into their homes to chat with them. We got the opportunity to tell them about our office and what we do and what Habitat for Humanity is doing [Halloween] weekend. They’re going trick or treating for money to help build homes around here.”

From Park to Nature Playground

Richland, WA – CBS affiliate KEPR reports on its website that over 300 people helped renovate a park in Richland, a city located in the southeastern portion of the state. Volunteers teamed up with the city to “put in a creek, plant a thousand native plants, build a sand pit, and engineer a cave.” The $140,000 needed for the project was funded through both a grant and donations. “It brings some diversity to the parks around here because it is a nature playground,” explains Hollie Logan, Chair of Mid-Columbia Make a Difference Day. “It encourages kids to go outside, put away their video games and explore nature.”

Haunted House for a Cause

Racine, WI – Looking for a novel way to get donations? Then perhaps take a cue from Racine, Wisconsin’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services Department. This agency sponsored a Make a Difference Day haunted house for children in grades K-8. No admission fee was charged, but donations of non-perishable foods were collected for an area food bank.

Corporations Get into the Act

Camden, NJ – Eight hundred and fifty Campbell’s Soup employees embarked on four days of volunteerism last week for the company’s Make a Difference Day contribution. According to Camden’sCourier Post Online, the workers’ goal was to “log more than 2,500 service hours and help partner nonprofit organizations qualify for $50,000 in grants by sorting and boxing food, tending to community gardens, offering nutrition education and picking produce at local farms.”

What Will You Do Next Year?

Make a Difference Day is always held the fourth Saturday in October. So mark your agency’s calendar for 10/22/2011. It’s never too early to start planning!