Knowing that volunteer slots at Harvesters fill quickly, Mike Watts didn’t waste any time to sign up his company as part of next Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. national day of service.
He called the food bank the day after last year’s King day.
Across the area, scores of residents will honor the slain civil rights leader by spending their day off volunteering at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries and other nonprofit agencies.
“It is a good feeling to give back to those who are less fortunate and those that need that help,” said Watts, who is a senior vice president for SWBC FICOR Group, a Lenexa-based financial insurance company.
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Jan. 19 will mark the 30th national observance of King’s birthday. In 1994, Congress designated the King holiday as a national day of service.
Volunteer slots at Harvesters have been filled for weeks. This year, 655 volunteers have signed up to work at its warehouse on Topping Avenue, and an additional 100 volunteers are expected to work at its facility in Topeka.
“If you look back at Dr. King’s teachings, his focus was on hunger and poverty; that message resonates with our volunteers,” said Amber Bourek, volunteer services manager.
Volunteer shifts begin at 8:30 a.m. and will continue until 7 p.m.
“Typically, Monday is not a day that Harvesters is open for volunteers,” Bourek said. “So it is really great to have so many people come out to help us.”
Volunteers include church groups, fraternities, sororities, alumni associations, students, corporations, families and even a centurions group.
During the two-hour shift, workers will sort and repackage produce and other donated food items. They also will spend classroom time learning about the King holiday and how the agency helps those in need, she said.
This will be the fourth year that FICOR employees have spent a part of their King holiday working at Harvesters, Watts said.
“I leave there after a couple of hours with a real positive feeling,” he said. “That is echoed by others who have worked with us.”
Other volunteers plan to visit businesses in the urban core to register people to vote. Rockhurst University students will go to St. Francis Xavier Church, located nearby, and help paint a food pantry and complete other chores. They also plan to clean up the Troostwood community garden. Others will hand out hot chocolate to those waiting at area bus stops.
For the seventh year, students from the area Metropolitan Community College campuses will spend the King holiday performing community service. Those on the Penn Valley campus will assemble care packets that consist of socks, travel-size toiletries and other items and distribute them to homeless people. Other groups of students will lend a hand at shelters and other locations that benefit the needy.
“It really helps our students understand the importance of giving back,” said Shelby Coxon, a campus life coordinator. “It also is important for them to understand that giving back doesn’t have to be a matter of money. We tell them, ‘You can give of your time or your treasure.’”