Written for The Argo by Benjamin Meyer
January 30th, 2021 marked Stockton University’s 17th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Event. Over 400 volunteers united to lead community involvement projects over zoom and in person for people of all ages. The purpose of the MLK Day of Service is to inspire the community to get involved with volunteering opportunities while learning more about Martin Luther King Jr’s life.
While the Covid-19 pandemic may have affected community engagement and volunteer numbers for this year’s event, the Stockton Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning made the best of it. Events were held over zoom or were socially distanced on camus. There was wreath making, writing letters to healthcare workers, creating care packages for the military, clothing drives, and Smiles for Tiles, a project that designs tiles for a mural at a local nursing home.
“I was so amazed because I knew during a pandemic, it was definitely going to hurt our numbers but I’m just so grateful for everything,” said Paige Richards, who hosted and served as the event coordinate for the MLK Day of Service at the Galloway Campus. “The event has been going on for so many years, we really wanted to make it accessible to everyone.”
When writing letters to healthcare workers, one of the most collaborative events was the letter writing to healthcare workers. Stockton had a large turnout of over sixty volunteers from around campus, as well as local community members who came together to write thank you notes to healthcare workers. The group ended up writing over 120 letters to be printed and delivered to Atlantic County Healthcare workers.
In a similar project, the Stockton Men’s Lacrosse Team created over 40 care packages for current military members.
During the Smiles for Tiles project, volunteers painted over 200 tiles which were donated by MudGirls Studios, a nonprofit organization that supports homeless women. Volunteers hand-painted each tile to be displayed in a mural at a local nursing home in the Atlantic City Area.
“Our volunteers were so willing, and enthusiastic this year, especially during a pandemic,” Richards continued, “To go out and serve our community, it just really spoke to me.”
One of the main goals of the event was to get the community involved, but it was also to educate people on the importance of MLK Day. Some of the virtual activities involved Zoom calls with Atlantic Healthcare workers who took turns reading a children’s book titled Martin’s Big World, which centers on the life of MLK. Other activities included making peace wreaths and a science lesson on making borax crystals.
This event was made possible not only by the support of the community, but by the donations from local businesses and organizations. One of the donations was from the Walmart of Manahawin, which provided over 50 yards of fabric used in a project that made animal beds for the Atlantic County Animal Shelter. Volunteers made over 40 pet beds.
Richards said, “Everyone’s flexibility, and just being able to adapt this year was beyond belief. It was just crazy, we’re so honored.”
After the event on Saturday, the Stockton Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning took time sending personalized thank you letters to the planning committee, volunteers, and multiple organizations that helped make the event possible. Over the following days, they overwhelmingly received over 100 responses from the community showing their appreciation for the event.
Overall, despite having to work around the pandemic, Stockton’s 17th Annual MLK Day Event had a turnout with over 400 volunteers and support from multiple local businesses, organizations, and the surrounding community at large.
“I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who supported our event,” Richards said in a closing statement. “We couldn’t have done it without some of the key players such as Veronica Roland who has done the event for the past 2 years. Thank you to everyone that supported our event. I am beyond humbled to have worked with people like this who can support me through this event; I’m so grateful for everything.”