Helping Hands

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In spite of chilly temperatures, a crowd of people gathered on the steps of Cambridge City Hall, coming together to honor the life and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They braved the cold for Many Helping Hands’ Third Annual MLK Day of Service, and over 1,300 people of all ages participated. The number of volunteers for this event has been growing steadily since 2011, from 500 participants that year to 800 participants in 2012. The yearly increase in volunteers demonstrates the importance of Martin Luther King, Jr. to local residents, who clearly wish to honor him with service, and to teach their children to serve in his honor, even so many years after his death.

Before heading inside, the volunteers listened to two songs performed by the Cambridge Children’s Chorus. Chief event organizer Lori Lander spoke to the crowd, thanking them for answering Dr. King’s call to service. She spoke of Dr. King’s belief that, as she put it, “Anyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” Lander’s comments were followed by a poetry reading by Cambridge Poet Populist, Toni Bee. Lastly, Valerie Stephens sang “This Little Light of Mine,” accompanied by the Children’s Chorus and the cold but very enthusiastic assembled volunteers.

The volunteers then went inside City Hall and across the street to the Cambridge Senior Center to work on several different projects. They made colorful fleece blankets and scarves for homeless children and adults, going through hundreds of yards of fleece—more fleece had to be brought in to keep up with production. Hundreds of scarves and blankets were created in total, all of them to be given out at Cambridge shelters during the January 26 homeless census.

Volunteers also made thousands of Valentine’s Day cards for local homebound elderly people served by Meals-on-Wheels, as well as for Cambridge veterans and active-duty military personnel. They made over 1,500 bookmarks for Cambridge and Somerville literacy programs. Over 1,000 activity kits were assembled for children of families visiting local hospital emergency rooms. Volunteers assembled over 500 kits of travel-sized toiletries for people at domestic violence and homeless shelters, using items donated by several Cambridge hotels. Volunteers had been asked to bring winter clothing and non-perishable food to donate to local shelters and other nonprofit organizations, and children’s books to donate to local youth and literacy programs. Those items were organized for distribution as well. Over 100 bags of groceries were donated, along with 1,500 pounds of winter clothes.

At City Hall, valentines were strung up on ribbons in the windows and on the bannisters. Local high school students continually ran up and down the stairs with snacks, cards, and other supplies. The rooms of the Cambridge Senior Center were filled with activity, fleece, paper and paint, with drying valentines adorning the walls. Volunteers in both buildings circulated with water and cookies for those occupied with crafting and kit assembly. The mood was busy and cheerful as people chatted with each other as they sewed, painted, or put kits together. An overflow crowd did their work at nearby St. Peter’s Church, where an equally busy and sociable feeling filled the open space of the church basement.

There was a tremendous amount of happy, engaged activity of service to others in one short afternoon, and a most appropriate way to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King. Asked about her feelings on seeing such a combined effort of service in one day, Ms. Lander called it “overwhelming.” She added, “It was an inspirational day, that people from everywhere in the community, from 2 to 95, rich and poor, can come together to help others in need in the community. It is remarkable that this man, who did so much in his life, continues to do so much to inspire others since his death. His baton has been passed to us to build stronger, fairer, and more caring communities.”

—-Melanie Temin Mendez

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