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HIGHLAND PARK, MI — It felt almost like normal. Except it wasn’t.

Donning face coverings and staying physically distant from each other, volunteers from A Time to Help gathered for their first project since early March — as in, pre-COVID-19 — on Saturday morning (July 18) at Buckets of Rain, a non-profit urban garden that provides thousands of servings of nutritious produce for the homeless and hungry each year.

As temperatures soared into the 80s, volunteers worked for nearly three hours under the direction of Buckets of Rain garden manager Michelle Lutz. They cleared weeds and grapevines from the fence line and removed spent green beans and cucumber plants from the garden beds so they could join “compost heaven,’’ she said.

“Eighteen super heroes,’’ Lutz said of the ATTH team after the project. “It was tough work, but a couple of hours into it, they were feeling like champions. I have to say, they were honestly the nicest and hardest working group. They were able to help us accomplish a goal. You should see it now. It looks so beautiful.”

The Buckets of Rain “Big Glen’’ garden, which is located across the street from the SAY Detroit Family Health Clinic, relies on volunteerism from spring to fall. But because the number of helping hands has fallen over the past four months due to the coronavirus pandemic, Saturday’s effort by ATTH came at just the right time.

“In our situation, we’re trying to serve a community that is extremely compromised to begin with,’’ Lutz said. “The amount of homeless people in need of a nutritious meal is increasing.

“We are putting out at least 1,000 pounds of produce a week, so we always need the extra hands.”

SAY Detroit Executive Director Marc (Rosey) Rosenthal greeted the volunteers at the beginning of the project. Rick Kelley, the nonprofit’s new Chief Development Officer, also worked in the garden with the ATTH team.

Although physical distancing protocol prevented the volunteers from gathering for their trademark “team’’ photo at the start of the project, it didn’t matter as protecting everyone’s health and safety was paramount.

“Really, it was just so great to be back, to be helping,” said longtime ATTH volunteer Chris Johnston, the program’s assistant coordinator. “We had two families (of volunteers) who came and they were incredible. Everybody was conscious of trying to stay away from each other. People were very respectful in maintaining social distancing 100%. We so appreciated so many people coming out on a hot summer day.’’

A Time to Help’s next project will be determined in the coming weeks. New volunteers are always welcome. Please register at atimetohelp.org/volunteer.

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