Second annual Day of Service held in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Tufts University Chaplain Greg McGonigle makes a care package of sanitary items at the BAGLY center during the MLK Day of Service on Jan. 19, 2015. Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily Archive

Members of the Tufts community participated in the second annual Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day of Service, volunteering at four different locations in the surrounding area this past Saturday.

The MLK Day of Service, hosted by the University Chaplaincy, brought volunteers from Tufts to serve at the American Red Cross Boston Food Pantry, the Cambridge Zen Center, the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and the Mystic Learning Center, according to the University Chaplaincy website.

“The goals for the MLK Day of Service were to provide an opportunity for Tufts students, staff and faculty to build relationships with local community organizations, provide needed assistance for these organizations and the people they support and to learn about systemic issues that impact our community and the Greater Boston area,” Zachary Cole, the University Chaplaincy’s program and outreach specialist, told the Daily in an email.

According to Cole, the Day of Service was planned by a committee of students and staff from student organizations and departments across the university.

“For the University Chaplaincy, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is an opportunity to work collaboratively with other staff and students, reflect on the life and teachings of Dr. King and educate on spiritual and ethical issues in our society and the world,” Cole said.

Volunteers were asked to sign up for one of six shifts led by trained facilitators, according to Cole. Shift leaders included staff from the Africana Center and the University Chaplaincy, as well as student members of the Interfaith Student Council, the CAFE (Conversation, Action, Faith and Education) Pre-Orientation Program and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. Before and after each shift, group members were given the chance to reflect and discuss their experiences, he said.

Sophomore Adam Zoll, who helped pack bags of food at the American Red Cross Boston Food Pantry in Roxbury, MA said that there were seven Tufts volunteers on his shift.

“As our group debriefed after volunteering, we all decided that the most rewarding part of the experience was seeing how appreciative many of the clients were, as well as how grateful all of the volunteers were to have the opportunity to give back to the community,” he said.

While the MLK Day of Service also fell on the same day that a blizzard hit New England, Zoll said the volunteers were able to avoid the snow.

“Luckily, it hadn’t started snowing until we were headed back to Tufts in the afternoon,” he said.

Sophomore Nicole Morris also volunteered at the American Red Cross Boston Food Pantry, where she helped distribute food, translate for clients, help clients apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamps and direct clients to the nutritional advice and brochures offered by the pantry. 

“I am really excited to be participating in this year’s MLK Day of Service because I value Martin Luther King Jr.’s words and contributions to addressing civil rights for Black Americans in America and how he emphasized the importance of overall wellness for humans regardless of skin color,” Morris told the Daily in an email prior to the event. “The organizations we are volunteering with promote wellness in a variety of ways for all people.

Another group of about 10 volunteers visited the Mystic Learning Center (MLC), a Somerville organization that aims to improve the lives of families living in the Mystic Public Housing Development by offering childcare and education programs. Volunteers were introduced to some of the school-age kids involved with the center, according to MLC Executive Director Florence Bergmann.

“Mystic kids and Tufts students spent three hours getting to know one another, participating in cool activities and sharing lunch,” Bergmann said.

Bergmann said the student volunteers, who serve as mentors to the MLC youth, were important.

“It is important to us, as a community group, to have a good collaborative relationship with Tufts,” she said. “The university has so many resources that it can share and we have a setting in the community to share as well.”

According to Cole, the University Chaplaincy faced several challenges while planning this year’s Day of Service.

“Due to the later start of spring semester this time, we were not able to tap into the established MLK Day service programs in the Boston area as we did last year and we needed to find our own service sites,” Cole said. “But we were still able to find some great community partners and are expecting 40-50 students, staff and faculty to participate throughout the day.”

The University Chaplaincy is also organizing an MLK Youth Homelessness Drive between Jan. 26 and Feb. 6 for one of their service site locations, Youth on Fire, a “drop-in center for homeless and street-involved youth in Cambridge, MA.” According to the Chaplaincy website, the campus-wide donation drive is collecting donations of winter clothing items, first aid supplies and notebooks.

Morris said that many of King’s words — some of which were shared at yesterday’s Annual MLK University Celebration: “Moving the Movement Forward”, held in Goddard Chapel — are still relevant in describing the role of race in America today.

“I am inspired by how MLK and other leaders like Malcolm X were inspired and intertwined their activism with the tenets of their beliefs,” she said.