BETHESDA — On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, thousands of people came out to do volunteer work at locations throughout Montgomery County. About 2,000 people attended the event at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel, where there were booths for various volunteer activities such as packaging food, crocheting blanket squares, and making bracelets.
Coordinated by the Montgomery County Volunteer Center, the Martin Luther King Jr. “day of service” has been conducted every year since the 1990s for people to volunteer in remembrance of Dr. King.
“It’s ingrained in the national culture that Martin Luther King Day is a day of service, so people are looking for ways they can help locally,” said Volunteer Center Director Molly Callaway.
According to Callaway, the county volunteer center’s role is to “connect non-profits and government organizations with anyone who wants to get involved with service.” Over 1,000 agencies are registered with the volunteer center, such as Habitat for Humanity and Manna Food Center.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett attended the event and spoke a few words to the crowded conference center. “I’m very excited to have attended today, it appears very successful with the number of people that turned out. I’m impressed with the number of young people who are here because it helps us to build a tradition,” said Leggett.
67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day is originally a South African organization that donates blankets to homeless people and homeless children’s charities for the 67 years that Mandela gave of his life in prison. 67 Blankets had tables where families and children could knit squares for blankets to be donated to those in need.
67 Blankets will donate the blankets made during the event, in addition to the 180 blankets made so far this year to local centers such as Central Union Mission, Playtime Project, a homeless children’s charity, and New York Avenue Men’s Homeless Shelter.
“We hold the world record for the largest knitted and crocheted blankets,” said Veronica Buzby, the organization’s ambassador for Maryland and D.C. Homemade squares are also sent in from volunteers across the nation.
The Eta Pi Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta, a historically Black sorority founded by Howard University was also at the event to make gimp bracelets with inspirational messages for bullied students.
“Our youth group for kids 4 to 18 are here to participate. We made about 50 bracelets, which we will donate to the counselor of a local school so they can give them out to kids affected by bullying,” said Quajalyn Amos, President of the Eta Pi Zeta Chapter.
Zeta Phi Beta has been volunteering for the day of service for the last eight years, and this was their first year making gimp bracelets. The sorority’s founding principle is community service, and this event will be added to their pledge to do 20 million hours of community service by the sorority’s centennial in 2020.
The Manna Food Center packaged 980 boxes during the event, which was done in less than two hours due to the large amount of volunteers who came out.
“The [Montgomery County] Volunteer Center has been great. The logistics were smooth and we had a lot of families come out to help us,” said Executive Director Jackie DeCarlo.
“Manna Food Center feeds 3,700 families a month, and the food packaged by the volunteers’ efforts will feed a week’s worth of families. “We didn’t need the whole two hours because everyone was so cooperative."