Thousands of volunteers band together to help the Triangle's poor

sgilman@newsobserver.comJanuary 20, 2014 

— Clad in bright yellow volunteer shirts, hundreds of people stood at tables in the gymnasium at N.C. Central University on Monday and made educational flash cards, tied fleece strips to make scarves, sewed teddy bears from brown felt and prepared soup mixes.

They were among the more than 2,200 volunteers who banded together on community projects during the ninth Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service hosted by United Way of the Greater Triangle. The volunteers took part in 35 different projects in four counties; the Durham project drew about 750 people.

Up two flights of stairs from the gym at NCCU’s Leroy T. Walker sports complex, other volunteers worked for “Family Day” hosted by the university. They taught seminars on topics ranging from financial management, tax help, stress relief and how to sign up for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.

In a room set aside as a temporary “community store,” stacks of books, piles of coats, colorful fleece scarves, soup mixes and more covered the tables. The United Way collected many of the materials in December, and added what volunteers crafted Monday.

Everything, including 3,600 packages of soup mix – each one enough to feed a family of four for one meal – went to about 100 residents of nearby McDougald Terrace, a 360-unit public housing project a few blocks from NCCU. It is the only neighborhood to receive every item made by one of the United Way’s signature community events.

The immediacy of the help made Durham’s project unique, said Chris Pfitzer, the United Way’s vice president of marketing and communications.

“This is the only predetermined neighborhood,” Pfitzer said. “There’s no lag time. The impact is going to be felt today.”

McDougald Terrace and NCCU already had a working partnership due to the college’s commitment to community service, according to Debra Saunders-White, chancellor of NCCU. She said NCCU requires students to complete 120 service hours before graduation; any students helping at the event on Monday would receive credit for 15 hours of community service.

Saunders-White said the partnership of NCCU’s Family Day and the United Way’s Day of Service would greatly impact residents of McDougald Terrace.

“I think they’ll walk away with some items that are fundamental to living,” she said. “But I also think they will walk away having had the experience of compassion and love and all the things that make this country great.”

Saunders-White called the event “the embodiment of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream and hope that we would come together to help one another and uplift each other.”

Poverty, she said, must be “eradicated” in the United States.

“We are one of the greatest countries on this planet,” she said. “It’s important that we work together to ensure that all citizens are fully engaged in this great nation.”

Gilman: 919-829-8955

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