11:07 PM CST on Thursday, January 15, 2009
By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News
Bryan French and some other regulars at the Sunshine Club, an Arlington bar, decided to answer the call of President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, to perform public service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
But when they went to a national Web site listing Martin Luther King Jr. Day service opportunities, they found none in Arlington.
So they thought up their own. They decided they would help a needy family with food, clothes, house repairs — whatever was most pressing. French listed their event on the Web site (usaservice.org), asking for volunteers.
“We figured we’d have the five of us, and maybe a couple of more,” he said.
But as of late this week, more than 70 people had signed up. Mission Arlington, a local charity, has agreed to identify at least one and possibly two families for the swelling group to help Monday.
“We think this is great,” said Tillie Burgin, executive director of Mission Arlington.
Across North Texas and the rest of the country, Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an occasion for service appears to be benefiting from the Obamas’ attention.
Since 1994, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has had an official service emphasis — something requested by Coretta Scott King, wife of the slain civil-rights leader. Last year, about 5,000 projects, involving about 500,000 volunteers, were identified by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service as being related to the holiday.
This year, the Obamas have publicly appealed for volunteerism on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, including in a video by Michelle Obama that has been widely e-mailed. And they have announced they will spend part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day — the day before the presidential inauguration — doing as-yet-unspecified volunteer work in Washington, D.C.
With this year’s heightened publicity, about 7,200 Martin Luther King Jr. Day projects have been announced, and the number of volunteers could climb into the millions, said Sandy Scott, spokesman for the Corporation for National and Community Service.
“We’re thrilled with the president-elect making service a centerpiece of his inauguration,” Scott said.
North Texas Food Bank and MediSend International, a Dallas-based charity, asked for help on the Web site. Both quickly got all they could handle. “We’re limited to 50 volunteers, and we had those in a heartbeat,” said Lou Ann York of MediSend, which provides medical equipment to hospitals in the world’s poorest countries.
Still looking for volunteers, but expecting a good turnout, is Erika Meredith, outreach committee president at Roe’s Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Old East Dallas. On Saturday morning, she’ll lead an effort to provide food and clothing to the homeless around Fair Park.
“It’s a good start for Obama to do this, and it also represents what Martin Luther King was about,” she said.
Passionate supporters of Obama and the Democratic Party seem to account for much of the bump in service activity.
Richard Harwood is a Democratic Party precinct chair in Carrollton, and he sees MLK Day service as a way of living out Democrats’ “party of the people” ideal. He’ll be among the volunteers at MediSend.
Casey Lloyd volunteered in the Obama campaign and decided to engage fellow East Dallas campaign workers with a drive to collect canned goods and money for the North Texas Food Bank. She said they’ve raised at least $2,500. “My entire living room is covered with canned goods,” she said.
On Monday night, she and her campaign friends will gather at The Wine Therapist tasting room in Lakewood to complete and celebrate their effort. They’ll be acknowledging MLK Day and the inauguration, but they’ll also be rekindling the camaraderie of the campaign.
“It’s kind of like coming home,” Lloyd said.
You can become involved, learn more here: www.ntfb.org/renewing-america-together/