King’s legacy inspires many to seek out volunteer opportunities in the Milwaukee area
From Whitefish Bay to Waukesha, Milwaukee-area residents rolled up their sleeves for a day of service in honor of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work for social justice and racial.
This is the second year that residents, fearless by the coronavirus pandemic, have carried out volunteer service projects in churches, libraries, schools or remotely at home.
Taylor Farage, 16, was among a group of students from Whitefish Bay High School to attend Bay Shore Lutheran Church’s first day of MLK service. She and others worked diligently in the church meeting hall to fill colorful drawstring bags with winter clothes and toiletries.
And in the church kitchen, another group of volunteers feverishly assembled 800 sandwiches for Just One More Ministry, a nonprofit that helps feed needy communities, shelters and pantries.
Farage, a sophomore, said the experience opened her eyes and made her more sensitive to the little things she usually took for granted. She realized that many people don’t have simple things like a toothbrush.
“I really like knowing that I’m doing something to really help,” Farage said.
Freshmen Sohraya Keltner, 15, and Amalia Holbrook, 14, didn’t hesitate to give up their day off school for a day of service. They both said helping those less fortunate is a better use of their time than shopping online, hanging out with friends or watching Netflix. But giving back is a principle of King’s teachings on selflessness and sacrifice.
“(King) always talks about love and peace and passing that on to people no matter what their situation is,” Holbrook said.
The teens helped put together 75 personal care kits filled with lotion, toothbrushes, toothpaste and 25 winter kits filled with hats, gloves and hand warmers. The kits will be distributed to the Hope Center in Waukesha and the Milwaukee Christian Center.
With growing number of COVID-19, the church, located at 1200 E Hampton Rd., Whitefish Bay, still went ahead with its plans for its day of service. The event limited the number of people inside the church, but also provided a “remote volunteering” opportunity.
Individuals can pick up the sandwich-making kits, assemble them at home, and bring them back to church. Donations to provide the kits came from church members and local businesses, including the Bayshore Lutheran Church Foundation, Thrivent and Meijer.
“We have decided to continue the day of service because the need is so great,” said Pastor Sarah Stobie, who came to Bay Shore Lutheran in 2019 after pastoring near Philadelphia for four years. “We felt that what we were doing was too important to be canceled or postponed.”
But she said she was delighted with the result. She is already looking for next year’s event. She hopes it will be a family affair where adults and children can participate together. She wants next year’s event to have an educational component that teaches about King and his message.
“I hope those who participated feel a sense of accomplishment in the service they give to the community,” she said. “Volunteering for your community is so rewarding, but more than that, it’s extremely worthwhile.”
City Year Milwaukee executive director Dr. Stephanie Maney-Hartlaub agreed.
Usually, City Year Milwaukee’s The annual MLK Day of Service attracts over 300 volunteers, making it the largest volunteer event for the King Holidays. Maney-Hartlaub had hoped to be in person for this year, but covid forced the organization to do remote volunteer projects as well.
So last week, about 150 volunteers picked up service project kits to paint 50 STEM-themed canvas wall posters and 100 canvas pencil cases to design it with inspirational messages in their homes. Volunteers will also be putting the finishing touches on two benches and crafting thank you cards to show their love and support for students during these difficult times. City Year service projects are for Brown Street Academy, but additional wall posters and pencil pouches will be donated to other schools in the city of Milwaukee.
The goal of service projects is to create a warm and beautiful environment, because children experience a lot too, Maney-Hartlaub said.
“While we’re all just talking about covid, (young people) are talking about all the things that create post-traumatic stress in them, the loss that they go through during this time,” Maney-Hartlaub said. “It’s really the words of encouragement, the individual attention given to (these projects) that make it such a powerful gift” for students.
Even with the pandemic, Maney-Hartlaub said, service projects are about building community.
“When I think about the purpose of our day of service, it has always been to bring people together, to work together as a community to create change,” she said. “The need for this hasn’t changed everything since the pandemic. We spend so much time thinking about what divides us and not enough time thinking about what brings us together.
“This day of service gives us all the opportunity to take action, even if it’s just a small action to start being part of the change. And the pandemic made me want to redouble my efforts on the idea of service and create a better world because it was so isolating,” she added.
Emily Hare wasn’t looking for volunteer opportunities when she walked into the Waukesha Public Library on Monday. She wanted to return some materials when she saw the library was open and hosting kid-friendly MLK events. So she decided to stay.
The library offered an interactive story hour for children with books on the King’s and Civil Rights marches as well as a song.
Hare, the mother of Kaden, 3, and Emma, 1, is always looking for opportunities to expose her children to various cultures and activities.
“I feel like I didn’t understand that when I was growing up,” Hare said. “I grew up in a small town where there are a lot of misconceptions, a lot of assumptions and a lot of segregation of ideas. I moved to town when I went to college and my eyes were open .
The Marquette University graduate said she always tries to read books that show inclusiveness and diversity from all walks of life, people and circumstances.
“I think he’s never too young to be introduced to things like that. I don’t want to shelter my children,” Hare said.