Inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and Reflection draws hundreds to serve

Students loading boxes on MLK Day of Service

The temperature outside Monday morning was barely above 0, but that didn’t keep droves of Pioneers from showing up at The Gathering Place to start a morning filled with service and reflection to honor the works of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

From filling “GoPacks” with healthy food that will help nourish local school children during snow days and spring break to walking dogs at the nearby Humane Society, more than 400 members of the Marietta College family engaged in positive works for the community.

“This sounds pretty cliché but seeing all these people here willing to help really warms my heart,” said Dr. Nkenge Friday, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Diversity & Inclusion, as she watched hundreds of volunteers fill 120 bags and boxes with food for elementary and middle school children in the Marietta City Schools District, which has the highest number of children living at or below the poverty level in Washington County.

Rather than hold classes on Monday, the College — led by the offices of Diversity & Inclusion and Civic Engagement — organized multiple opportunities for students and employees to serve the community, and also offered educational workshops to faculty and staff in the afternoon that provided resources in civic engagement and student support.

Volunteers also conducted service at the local Boys & Girls Club, Marietta Family YMCA, Ely Chapman Center, Humane Society of the Mid-Ohio Valley, Trading Post nonprofit Thrift Store, and Peoples Bank Theatre.

Munirah AlAwadh ’21 helped to form a food brigade from vans unloading food for the GoPacks to tables inside The Gathering Place, and then helped fill snow day bags with packs of oatmeal, mixed vegetables, macaroni and granola bars.

“I wanted to do something new, and that is why I am here,” she said. “I have never engaged in this type of activity so this is a way to meet new people and talk about new things. I love to help people.”

Before the bags and boxes were packed, Maribeth Saleem-Tanner, Director of the Office of Civic Engagement, explained to the first wave of volunteers that about 33 percent of the children in the district live at or below the poverty level, and that many children rely on the free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches they receive during the school day as their primary source of nutrition. When school is not in session, programs such as GoPacks help fill children’s needs and teach them how to care for themselves and their families.

Heather Warner, Executive Director of GoPacks, said the College also provided funding to purchase the food for the spring break boxes, which will help feed children during the nine days they are out of school.

“So far this year, we’ve enrolled 97 elementary school children,” Warner said. “Last year we peaked at 109. But we’ve also just added the Middle School this week, so I see those numbers growing. This is a lot of help [Marietta College] is providing. With five or six volunteers — just strictly packing and sorting — this would take five or six hours. There are more than a hundred people here willing to help children they may not even know — I’m floored.”

A few blocks away, graduate students, faculty and staff from the Physician Assistant Studies Program, spent the morning organizing thousands of books for the spring book giveaway at the Ely Chapman Education Foundation.

Miranda Collins, Director of the PA Program, said the program collaborates with the Ely Chapman Center throughout the year to help young children through lectures and demonstrations learn about healthy living.

Collins’ daughter, Luci, 10, and Assistant Professor Hiatt Wolfe’s children, Vivian, 4, and Harlan, 7, also pitched in during the day of service.

“We were unboxing books and neatly putting them back in the boxes,” Luci, who is also a student at the center.

Friday encouraged volunteers who attended the celebratory luncheon that followed the service projects to take pride in their service and take a moment to reflect on why working for the betterment of others honors the legacy of Dr. King.

No stranger to community service, Lauren Eakle ’21, who is majoring in Music Therapy and also in the Scholars Community, spent her morning helping with the GoPacks project.

“I came because I really wanted to explore more opportunities for service. I volunteer with the McDonough Leadership Program fairly regularly,” she said. “I think it’s up to us to make the most of it — to make it count.”