itter cold and biting winds didn’t stop thousands from trekking to Central Square on Monday with food and clothing donations in tow to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In what’s become one of the largest community service events in New England, the Martin Luther King Jr. Cambridge Day of Service, in its ninth year, draws approximately 3,000 volunteers annually to City Hall, the Citywide Senior, the YWCA, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and The Possible Project, where various stations are set up to create and donate to those in need.
Volunteers spend the afternoon making Valentine’s Day cards, fleece blankets and scarves and sorting clothing and food donations. Their work will benefit over 80 nonprofits in Cambridge, including helping to restock 16 food pantries.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Sal DiDomenico also stopped by the event to support the work of their constituents.
“I came here because it’s in my district and I wanted to be in community and in service with as many people as possible on this day,” Pressley said during the event at City Hall. “People fought so hard for this holiday to even be in existence to pay tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. King. And many do treat it as a day off. So it is heartening to see people honoring the work of Dr. King in service and in community with one another.”
Families come from all over the Boston area to participate. Shani Tselios drove from Lowell with her husband and two children, ages 5 and 8.
“I came to teach my kids to help out when they can and do something for the community,” she said.
“I like making stars,” added her 5-year-old daughter, Ayanna, as she cut out shapes to add to the fleece blankets that will be given to those in need.
As for Saadya Raymond, 17, who was volunteering as part of the Community Charter School of Cambridge, she participates simply because it makes her feel good to give back.
“If you were in the same situation you would want help, too, if you were a homeless person or an elder who doesn’t have family. I think it’s just a good thing to do, out of respect for other people,” she said as she hung homemade Valentine’s Day cards from strings in front of a large panel window along the steps of City Hall.
The cards, of which there are usually over 3,000, will be passed out to veterans, elders, those in service or those without stable housing.
“I just talked to one of the janitors in City Hall and when he was in Afghanistan in 2010, he got one of our Valentine’s,” said Ann Lawson, one of three organizers who helps run the Valentine’s Day card making. “Doesn’t that just melt your heart?”
Lori Lander, one of the event’s co-founders, said the idea came to her after she attended Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, the day after MLK Day. She witnessed all these community service events around Washington D.C., honoring Dr. King.
“The spirit was amazing,” she said. “When we came back to Boston, we looked around and there wasn’t anything celebrating and honoring Dr. King. So we decided to start one.”
The event has grown since.
This year, donations included: 347 bags of groceries delivered to 18 food pantries and meal programs in Cambridge; 1,677 personal care kits delivered to 27 programs serving homeless and low-income teens and adults; 2,319 activity kits for children waiting in hospital emergency rooms in Cambridge, Somerville, Boston and Lowell; 1,011 pounds of winter clothing for homeless and low-income children, teens and adults in Cambridge; over 630 fleece scarves and blankets for homeless children, teens and adults in Cambridge; and over 3,000 Valentine’s cards for isolated elders, veterans, troops overseas and homeless men and women. There was a dip in attendance due to cold and snow, according to organizers, from 3,289 volunteers last year to approximately 2,100 this year.
“What’s exciting now is more and more communities in Greater Boston and Massachusetts are doing their own celebrations and making it a day ‘on’ instead of a day off of helping people think about those in need in their community,” said Lander.