Although the young Immaculate Conception and St. Brendan students did not know it, they were working in unison with thousands of other volunteers throughout California the weekend of May 4-6.The colorful T-shirts they wore said it all: “Big Sunday Pitch In,” “Big Sunday Give Back,” “Big Sunday Help Out.”

As described by its leaders, Big Sunday is a “grassroots community building movement” where more than 500 nonprofits engage their volunteers in a communal effort to serve the most needy.

“The idea is that everyone helps somebody else in some way,” David Levinson, Big Sunday’s founder, told The Tidings.

In 1999 the member of the Temple Israel of Hollywood started reaching out to the larger community as part of the “Mitzvah Day,” which he was asked to run for his community, but it was not until 2001 that a phone conversation inspired him to take the outreach to another level.

He phoned Covenant House, a shelter for homeless youth operated by the Religious Sisters of Charity in Hollywood, asking a case manager how Big Sunday could help. He was awestruck when he heard the answer.

“We don’t need help,” she said. “We would like to help others.”

That same year the homeless youth organized a car wash to raise funds for other less fortunate people. “That was a big turning point,” Levinson said.

Such response inspired him to knock on more doors to get them involved in the annual weekend activity that has in turn inspired others to volunteer on a weekly basis.

Levinson said Big Sunday has no “religious or political agenda.” It is for “everybody to get involved,” regardless of their beliefs.

“It has been a warm experience,” said John Mckenna, director of marketing and development at Immaculate Conception School in the Pico Union area, of his experience with Big Sunday for the last four years.

Activities at the school this year included a May 5 painting of walls and weeding out the patio, plus a May 6 visit by 50-plus students to the Los Angeles Museum of Art, sponsored by Paramount Pictures.

Half of the children attending Immaculate Conception are either barely above or below poverty lines, explained McKenna in a Big Sunday video promotion, so the activities “help validate the students’ academic efforts,” he said.

In the same series of promotional videos, Religious Sister of Charity Margaret Farrell, spiritual director at Covenant House, emphasizes the importance of having people of all walks of life and religious beliefs united to help one another. 

A group of St. Brendan students led by Kelly Reilly, fourth grade teacher and mother of two students and two alumni, joined the outreach effort for the first time this year by visiting and accompanying seniors at St. John of God Retirement and Care Center.

Seventh grader Isabella Mendoza, 13, compared the experience with the days she spent with her father when he was hospitalized after being diagnosed with cancer. He passed away three years ago, but with a smile she said she gained from that experience a desire to help sick people or people with disabilities.

“This is what we do: help others in time of need,” said Levinson before hopping on a bus for a one-hour “chill out” tour through West L.A. May 5. He was joined by volunteers and a group of mothers and their children from a shelter for battered women. 

It was a symbolic way of opening the series of outreach activities that Big Sunday coordinated throughout the state.

For more information about Big Sunday visit

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