Local organizations participate in National Day of Service

The groups volunteered to commemorate Martin Luther King Day.

Since 1994, Martin Luther King Day has been a nationally-recognized day of volunteering, but in 2009, the nation reached new levels of service.

President-elect Barack Obama made several announcements this month to encourage Americans to volunteer for projects on King’s birthday.

In Columbia, various groups offered their time to answer Obama’s call.

The MU College Democrats helped Rainbow House staff by sorting through donated items, such as toys and baby clothes. 

“The regular employees and volunteers had been overwhelmed with donations,” MU College Democrats President Brian Roach said. “You name it, they had it.”

The idea to volunteer at Rainbow House came from a tip from the Boone County Council on Aging, which had scheduled its own service project. The council planned on demolishing a shed for an elderly person and got more volunteers than it could use, so the council suggested the College Democrats volunteer at Rainbow House instead. 

The shed demolition was rescheduled for next week.

“This is definitely an unprecedented year,” Roach said. “There has never been this national call to serve.”

The Islamic Center of Central Missouri was involved in multiple service projects on Martin Luther King Day, Islamic Center Education Officer Rashed Nizam said.

On Sunday, the center donated $2,500 to a food bank, and beginning Tuesday members will try to work daily shifts at the food bank.

“We need to continue this service in the days and months to come,” Nizam said. “We thought it would be nice to do it on a regular basis.”

Families are prepared to donate warm clothes to a local homeless shelter as soon as the shelter voices a need for the clothes, Nizam said.

“The basic teaching of Islam is to help your neighbors and to help each other,” Nizam said. “That’s wonderful to do that.”

According to a news release from the Corporation for National and Community Service, there are twice as many projects this year compared to last year.

“Through President-elect Obama’s call to service, the hard work and planning by thousands of community groups and the savvy use of the Internet, we will see an extraordinary demonstration of the power of citizen action across America tomorrow,” Nicola Goren, acting CEO of the corporation, said in the release.

Earlier in the week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution to officially promote the holiday as a national day of service.

U.S. Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., serves as the co-chairman of the National Service Caucus, where the legislation originated. He issued a news release Friday in which he urged fellow members of Congress to take part in service.

“I cannot think of a more appropriate way to honor the heroic life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King than by serving one’s community and fellow citizens,” Platts said in the release.

Roach said the economy has changed how people choose to serve, opting less for monetary contributions in favor of donating their time.

“The economic situation has changed, so people are starting to realize what’s important,” Roach said. “It’s not about just giving money anymore but about actually taking time to help others.”

Roach also attributed the rise in volunteering to Obama’s appeal for all Americans to volunteer on the holiday.

“Obama called upon the nation to recognize not only the great achievements of Martin Luther King but also to honor him through service,” Roach said. “I think it’s going to be a real change in how we view this holiday.”

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