Hundreds of area residents marched, painted, sewed teddy bears and made sandwiches Monday to commemorate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy with a day of service. “We want Martin Luther King Jr. Day to be a day ‘on’ and not a day off,” said Diana Strelczyk, program assistant for service learning at Richard Stockton College, which hosted its 10th annual Day of Service at all five Stockton sites in Galloway Township, Manahawkin, Atlantic City, Woodbine and Hammonton.
An estimated 800 students, staff, alumni and community members participated in almost 50 community service projects.
Another 100 people, including students who had the day off from school, participated in the 41st march though Atlantic City hosted by the Atlantic City chapter of the NAACP to remember the pastor and civil rights activist who marched for equality in the 1950s and 1960s.
“It’s exciting to mark the day in Atlantic City where he physically was and to walk the same streets he did,” said Mayor Don Guardian.
The march ended at the Civil Rights Garden on MLK Boulevard, followed by a service and speeches at the St. James AME Church..
Guardian said the message of nonviolence is especially important in a city that saw a recent spike in violence.
“And it’s fitting to have a march here because he gave his life and showed us a life of nonviolence.” Guardian said. “In the past 20 days, with the violent attacks that have taken place, it’s a wake-up call for the community to take action to stop violence.”
Students who participated in the march said it was more exciting than being in a classroom.
“In class they teach you about the past. Being a part of the march, even though its not (to fight) oppression, is like being a part of history,” said James Brown, 18, a student at Atlantic Cape Community College.
Rabbi Aaron Krauss, of the Temple Beth El synagogue in Margate, was recognized for being a part of all 41 marches.
“I don't think I've missed a single one,” he said. “And that was before it was a holiday. And now every single state in the union now recognizes this day.”
Krauss added that recognition of King with a national holiday is the one such instance that doesn't memorialize a politician but an average person.
“This was his race, the human race. And it's the only race that exists,” Krauss said of King.
Strelczyk said their Day of Service has grown dramatically since the first event, which drew about 50 people.
“We really are hitting all of South Jersey now,” she said.
Daniel Tome, assistant director of service learning at Stockton, and co-chair of the event, said students have just arrived back on campus after the winter break, and the day sets a positive tone for the start of spring semester today. College clubs and athletic teams have embraced the event and alumni return to participate.
A large group of students from the Absegami High School Interact Club helped make 347 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, sew teddy bears for sick children and make Valentine’s Day cards for participants in the Meals on Wheels program.
“It’s fun,” said senior Whitney Wu, of Galloway Township, of why she chose making teddy bears.
“And we are bringing smiles to children’s faces,” said senior Nadia Chiorazzo, also from Galloway.
Kathryn Bates, of Manahawkin, brought her six children, Dominic, Dean, Dylan, Gavin, Kristina and Gabrielle, plus a few friends to Stockton to do a community service project for MLK Day.
“They had the day off from school, and I didn’t want them to just stay home,” said Bates, a school nurse at the McKinley School In Stafford Township. “They got to meet new people, including a girl from Liberia.”
Stockton student Jacqueline Kennedy, 21, from Galloway Township, brought her sisters Louise, 9, and Wilhemina, 16, to volunteer. She said she likes the concept of the Day of Service, and Louise got to try her hand at sewing for the first time.
“It’s been a great day,” she said.
Off-site, volunteers helped paint the PAL buildings in Atlantic City and Egg Harbor Township, take care of horses at South Jersey Horse Rescue, visit with residents at Seashore Gardens, clean out the Captain’s House at Tuckerton Seaport, and organize props and supplies at Eagle Theatre in Hammonton.
Stockton expanded the program to its satellite campuses this year and coordinators were thrilled with the results.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but it was a good turnout,” coordinator Yubi Pena said of the 25 people who came to the Hammonton site.
The Woodbine site attracted people from as far away as Manahawkin, who brought canned goods for the food drive, but also stayed to tour the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage, so it was also good exposure for the Stockton-run museum, Executive Director Jane Stark said.
At least 50 people attended events in Manahawkin, where staff offered technology and emergency-preparedness classes and recorded residents’ Hurricane Sandy stories. Volunteers also made about 250 get-well cards.
“It was a really nice mix of people from children to older adults,” said Manahawkin operations manager Michele Collins-Davies. “People were so happy to be here. It was an incredible day.”
Contact Diane D’Amico:
Contact Anjalee Khemlani:
@AnjKhem on Twitter