RALEIGH — Triangle citizens of all ages came together Monday to serve others in the name – and in the spirit – of Martin Luther King Jr.
Through MLK Day of Service events coordinated by the United Way of the Greater Triangle, at least 2,000 volunteers gathered in Wake, Durham, Orange and Johnston counties to give back to local non-profits and do good deeds for those less fortunate.
The United Way’s Wake County Signature Project took place in the dining hall at Ravenscroft School in North Raleigh, where kindergartners sat elbow-to-elbow with bankers, sewing teddy bears and fringing baby blankets that would go to homeless shelters, non-profit nurseries and women’s groups in the area.
The more than 300 volunteers reporting to the school Monday also made placemats for use in soup kitchens, decorated birthday and thank-you cards to military service members, assembled hygiene kits for crisis shelters and put together birthday kits (cake mix, frosting and a card) that will go to InterACT and to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
For many at the events, the MLK Day of Service is a tradition.
Dequandra’ Rankins, 16, a student at Wake Early College of Health and Science in Raleigh, said that at the last service event he sorted clothes donated to homeless shelters. On Monday, he was writing personal messages inside birthday cards and thank-you cards for those serving the country in the military.
“I feel fortunate and want to give to those less fortunate,” said Dequandra’, who was with a group from the Boys and Girls Club of Wake County.
As Coy Parrott carefully stitched the edges of what would become a brown felt teddy bear, he said he appreciated the “temperance” in King’s teachings of peace and unity. “He just wanted everybody to get along,” said Coy, 13, a student at North Raleigh Christian Academy.
Coy made neat stitches on the little bear that would eventually find its way to the arms of a needy child. He later confessed that he had sewn before – a Christmas stocking when he was in kindergarten – but said he had no plans to take up sewing as a hobby after Monday’s work was done.
United Way Events Specialist Natasha Wayne said about 1,500 volunteers had pre-register for activities across the Triangle on Monday, and they usually get another 400 to 500 walk-ups. Another 350 volunteers toiled over the weekend doing advance work for today – inventorying donated goods, cutting out the bear shapes and preparing supplies.
And it wasn’t just school kids and youth groups pitching in, according to Wayne. Many of the volunteers were from local companies and organizations such as SunTrust Bank, Wake Technical Community College, MasTec and Wells Fargo. Many veterans and active duty military members also registered for volunteer work.
When it’s all over, Wayne said they expect to have 2,000 hygiene kits and hundreds of blankets, bears, placemats and cards. Other events – nearly 30 in all – produced walker pockets and ceramic flower pots stuffed with seeds, provided hands-on CPR training, ran food and blood drives, and performed outdoor repair tasks for local non-profits.
The annual day of service also has become a tradition for a group from the Weston Pointe neighborhood in Cary.
“We’ve done this several years now,” said Sheiniz Rich, one of four adults chaperoning nine young children at Ravenscroft. “We want to get the kids involved and teach them it’s not just a holiday, it’s a time to give back to the community.”
Her daughter, 7-year-old Aliana, said she has learned a lot about King at Morrisville Elementary School. “We read books about what he did for people,” she said. “He made sure everybody was treated equally. This is a nice way to honor him.”
For Reysha Evans, a 15-year-old Wakefield High School sophomore attending the Ravenscroft event with the St. Matthew Youth Ministry of Raleigh, it was the first time using MLK Day to serve others in an official way. Reysha believes King taught important lessons that were tied to Monday’s good works.
“He wanted us to help our brothers in need, no matter what color they are,” she said.