NEW YORK – Corporate-sponsored parties and caucus meetings were not the only events scheduled for delegates attending the Republican National Convention (search) this week. Some delegates also participated in community service projects organized by the GOP across the city.
Decorating playhouses for children, constructing homes for Habitat for Humanity (search) and volunteering at soup kitchens were among the activities that took place. Although delegates reported a few hitches in the execution, they were generally pleased with the plan and those who participated said they had fun. According to the Republican Party, the purpose of these projects was to answer President Bush’s call to service.
A partisan bent, however, was underlying some of the charitable acts.
"Republicans show where our hearts really are" through these projects, said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the Michigan Republican State Committee.
Pennsylvania delegates served food and cleaned the church at the Bowery Mission (search) in Manhattan. New Mexico and Arizona delegates worked in a nursery, reading to kids and helping clean up the Latino Pastoral Action Center (search) in the Bronx.
But in some communities, the volunteers were hard to track down. An early-morning attempt on Tuesday to catch up with Mississippians cleaning up Central Park proved fruitless, and questions to the staff at the Central Park Conservancy (search) were greeted with confused looks. Similarly, no Missouri delegates were easily found cleaning up the streets of Chinatown.
And some delegates said that while they were aware of the events, they were too busy to get out to them.
Daniel Branch, a delegate and member of the Texas House of Representatives from Dallas, said his schedule was packed with meetings on Tuesday so he could not participate in the Texas delegation’s Passaic River cleanup project. But he added that even those not able to make it out to the events could give something back.
"A lot of us are going to give unused bus passes and phone cards to the Salvation Army (search)," Branch said, referring to the freebies the party provided delegates.
The Republican Party publicized the community service events in a press release. The "Compassion Across America" program grew out of Bush’s call for Americans to take action in their communities. Delegates were encouraged to volunteer not only in New York, but also back home.
"President Bush believes that the greatest strength of our nation lies in the character of our citizens. ... Republicans from all 55 delegations will answer the president's call to service in an effort to bring our party's positive message to every community," Bill Harris, CEO of the convention, said in the release.
Some of the Tuesday volunteerism turned out large numbers of participants. The Michigan, Ohio and Florida delegations painted and decorated playhouses for children at Safe Horizon in Queens. Margaret Van Houten, a delegate from Dearborn Heights, Mich., joined about 150 volunteers in the project, but she said her group showed up a little late.
Dressed in work clothes, Van Houten and 50 other Republicans spent two hours lost in Queens before their bus finally found the site.
Frankie Middleton, a Republican activist from Michigan, reported that the group finally found its way when Richard Parcell, a New York City detective, boarded the bus and escorted them to the site.
"It went really well after we got there," said Middleton, who still bore the marks of her work, with green paint on her fingernails.
Van Houten also said she had a good time. "Hopefully, the children will enjoy them," she said.