Several years ago, Leah Shelton found a unique way to answer the call to service on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
Rather than pick up a paintbrush to help refurbish an area shelter or sort items at a thrift store, the former college counselor instead will reach for some bundles of fabric.
On Monday, Shelton will join about 25 other retired and current faculty and staff members from Metropolitan Community College at her house in Independence to munch on coffee cake, sip cups of coffee and tea, and make fleece lap blankets for children and babies at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
“Service was important to Martin Luther King Jr., and it is just a way to honor that tradition,” said Shelton, who worked with students with disabilities at the Blue River campus.
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“Some of us were not going to go out and paint or do that kind of thing. This is a good thing for old ladies to do,” she joked.
They’re expecting to make about 35 blankets this year, which should put their total over six years at more than 200 blankets. Shelton and fellow retiree Barbara Schaefer launched the project after college officials urged students and staff to spend the King holiday helping others.
Shelton and Schaefer’s 4-by-4-foot blankets are made by knotting together two pieces of fleece. Everyone who comes to the event brings coordinating pieces in kid-friendly patterns.
“It seemed like a good thing to do and something we needed to do and something that we can have fun doing,” Shelton said.
Her group will not be the only area residents volunteering their time on the King holiday.
Throughout the area, scores of residents will spend their day off volunteering at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries and other nonprofit agencies.
Across all five MCC campuses, organizers are expecting about 500 students, faculty, staff members and administrators to volunteer at various locations that day.
“We are a community college and want to give back to our community,” said Mark James, chancellor of MCC, noting that King recognized the power of service.
James added that service is part of the college’s stated mission of “preparing students, serving communities, creating opportunities.”
Elsewhere, about 175 Rockhurst University students will fan out across the city and participate in various service projects. They include collecting trash and other cleanup duties along Brush Creek, baking cookies for cancer patients, cleaning a warehouse, sorting items for a homeless program and performing random acts of kindness, such as paying for patrons’ laundry and engaging in friendly conversations with them.
“Students enjoy the culture of service,” said Alicia Douglas, the university’s director of community relations and outreach.
In 1994, Congress changed the King holiday into a national day of service. Scores of service projects are scheduled to take place across the country. A website at www.serve.gov is set up to match volunteers to projects.
“The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is a new opportunity for us to empower our community by helping each other,” Chris Piel, steering committee co-chairman for the Kansas City chapter of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.
The group will partner with students and faculty from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and assemble sack lunches and personal care packages that will be given to the homeless and Neighbor2Neighbor, an organization that provides food 365 days a year to the needy in the Kansas City area.
“Even the smallest opportunity to help can make a substantial impact,” Piel said.