At Lincoln Heights Elementary School in west Charlotte, 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches.
The PTA is small, and many students come from single-parent families whose struggle to make ends meet leaves little time to volunteer.
Saturday, 75 pairs of helping hands from all over Charlotte painted, pruned and spread mulch at the school as part of a new effort to help schools in low-income areas.
“This provides a quick, easy way for people to get involved,” said Lisa Quisenberry, director of Hands On Charlotte. The nonprofit has teamed with Center City Partners and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on what they call “The Big Project” to send volunteers to high-poverty schools one Saturday each month.
Superintendent Peter Gorman has called the project a “super spring cleaning” that's especially important now that budget cuts have stretched maintenance staffs to the limit.
In the Lincoln Heights media center Saturday, Bethany Patterson and her daughters Siri, 6, and Alleta, 8, used damp sponges to wipe dust off books and shelves.
“Our school is a privileged school,” Patterson said of Elizabeth Lane Elementary in Matthews, where her daughters go. But she wanted the girls to learn that not all schools have the same advantages – and that everyone, even kids, can do something to make their community better.
On the asphalt basketball court outside, a dozen volunteers used masking tape to mark free-throw and three-point lines before dipping brushes in white paint.
“I know a lot of teachers,” said Craymon Garner, a 29-year-old hospital employee who has no children but said it makes him feel good to help schools in the tough economy.
Lincoln Heights Principal Martha Carpenter said Saturday's work shows students the community cares about them and helps set the bar for good discipline and behavior.
“It helps set an example for taking care of your belongings and being responsible,” she said.
Quisenberry hopes “Big Project” volunteers will get to know the schools on Saturdays and then come back during the week to be lunch buddies or tutors.
The project's next spruce-up day is June 27 at Bishop Spaugh Community Academy.