Martin Luther King, Jr. posed this question to the public during his brief but meaningful lifetime. And in 1994, 26 years after King was assassinated, Congress designated the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday as a national day of service. Many local organizations have taken up the cause to observe this holiday not as a day off, but a “day on”. Here in Baltimore, the need to serve is great—and so are the opportunities.
I feel fortunate to be a part of the Friends School Community, where taking part in the MLK Day of Service has been a tradition in my family since my daughter began attending the school ten years ago.
Monday, January 16, 2017 was the 13th annual Martin Luther King Mr. Day of Service at Friends School, where more than 400 participants—students, parents, faculty members, and friends—volunteered in 14 service activities, both on campus and off.
Volunteers cleaned up neighborhoods, served in food pantries, created a reading room at a Baltimore City community center, and so much more. I participated in an activity that drew 50 eager volunteers to make 400 lunches distributed throughout the greater Baltimore region: Dundalk, Reisterstown, Towson, and Baltimore City. Every participant, from 5 to 75, made a slight difference in the life of someone in need today. They also learned of some pretty startling statistics, including the following:
At least 3,000 people in Baltimore have nowhere to call home on any given night.
The Baltimore City School system estimates that over 2,000 of their students are homeless.
About one of every four students in the Baltimore City public schools arrive at school hungry every morning.
About one in every six people in Maryland did not have enough money at some point during last year to buy food to feed their family.
Clearly, the need in our region is great. So too are the ways in which we can help.
I asked one volunteer, who’s been returning to the Friends’ MLK Day of Service lunch-making activity for several consecutive years, what brings her and her son back again and again. “Because we can,” she said, as if the answer was simple.
And it really is. Showing up for a couple hours to volunteer to help those less fortunate, whether it’s once a year or once a month, helps. So next year, on the third Monday of January, when we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, consider making it a “day on” rather than a day off. And if you already did so this year, feel free to share on our Facebook page how you and your family spent MLK Day 2017.
Photos courtesy of Laura Pritchett.