In honor of the iconic civil rights leader, hundreds chose to serve the community.
Stacks of PB&J sandwiches, piles of fleece blankets and more than 800 volunteers convened in the gym of Charles W. Lewis Middle School.
Locking arms, the crowd created a colossal human chain of races, religions and creeds, enlivening the gym with an impromptu performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
The sight served as the commencement of Gloucester Township’s seventh annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, one of the largest South Jersey MLK events, encompassing nearly 27 projects from sewing hats for the homeless to making treats for pets.
“We find ourselves gathering today in once place — not in a divisive atmosphere — but for one cause,” said the Rev. Lynn Davis, senior pastor of The Harvest Church.
Emulating the legacy of King, that cause was to foster the well-being of the community.
With hundreds of participants distributed among 27 projects, a portion of the volunteers remained at the school to work, while others departed for destinations around the area.
The morning was not merely made up of local residents, as everyone from Mayor Dave. R Mayer to members of governor-elect Murphy’s administration were in attendance.
“All of you could have stayed home on this day off. But you chose to come here. You chose to spend this day commemorating a great man who spent his entire life in service to others,” said Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the administration’s appointee for health commissioner.
During the opening program, 11 students from Gloucester Township public schools were recognized for their outstanding demonstrations of humanitarianism. From raising funds for pediatric cancer research to cooking food for the hungry, the children received a medal and certificate for their positive impact.
“The students nominated for this recognition are champions of justice, humanity and/or service to the community,” said Aaron Rose of the MLK Day Committee.
The township also presented a $3,535 check for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.
The funds were collected by Gloucester Township public schools and the Gloucester Township Education Foundation.
As the program concluded, people of all ages reported to their project posts — whether it entailed making food in the cafeteria down the hall or catching a bus to Camden.
Several volunteers say they’ve seen this particular event evolve every year.
For some folks, this was their seventh time attending the MLK Service Day, being part of the event since its inception, as they are drawn back every year by the community’s mass initiative to benefit those beyond the boundaries of Gloucester Township.
“I was just overwhelmed by all the projects and people here,” said Christine Corrigan, coordinator of the Giggle Books, a project that crafts joke books for hospitalized children.
The project has been participating in the event for five years.
“It feels incredible and supportive,” Corrigan said. “People come from out of the township, too, who maybe don’t have these opportunities to serve, so we take them on. I don’t live here. I work here, but I’m still welcomed to be part of it.”
Although the event attracts hundreds of strangers to serve with one another, it’s also a day to bond with friends and family.
“This is our favorite community service every year,” said Isabel Alexander, volunteer for the Camden County Animal Shelter. “This is just something where everyone comes together, so I bring more and more friends every year. I’m doing it not only with my family but with the community.”
While everyone vigorously focused on their various tasks at hand, a flag featuring King hung proudly over the sea of services, reminding participants of the civil rights leader’s practice that should not be solely confined to one day a year.
“Today is a day that we, as a community, are committed to service. However, every day should be committed to service,” Davis said. “This is the love that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke.”