“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said the following about the need to serve.
“Everybody can be great . . . because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
With that spirit in mind, people can make great things happen through serving on Monday, Jan. 20, the day celebrating the accomplishments of the iconic civil rights leader.
Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday since 1984, has often been used by companies and other entities as more than just another day off. It’s an opportunity to devote time to community service.
Islamic Relief USA is no exception. The nonprofit humanitarian organization will partner with Islamic Society of Greater Harrisburg, located at 407 North Front St., Steelton, to help pack 25,000 nonperishable meals. The meals will go to local shelters and food pantries that will then serve the community’s neediest residents.
Poverty and food insecurity remain major problems in Harrisburg and the surrounding area. According to the United States Census Bureau, Harrisburg — which has just under 50,000 residents– has a 27.7 percent poverty rate.
Food insecurity is among the major problems in Harrisburg and the region. A recent analysis found that one in nine residents struggle with hunger (among children, it’s one in six). Some 58 percent of residents in the region are described as working poor.
Meal packs and similar activities can at least provide some temporary help in reducing hunger. They also can help foster volunteering and community service in general. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that meal packs and other activities involving the handling of food are popular.
The reports, however, show some potential red flags when it comes to the future of volunteering. While the rate among the young adult and middle-age demographics remains good, if not robust, the rate of community service among high-school and college students is a tad low.
There’s another statistic that would perhaps make Dr. King feel disappointed. It shows that college students are a lot more likely to engage in community service than people who have less formal education.
The data from BLS shows that while the number of volunteers with college degrees in 2015 was 28 million, the number of volunteers who possessed solely a high school diploma was just 9.6 million. There likely are many reasons for this discrepancy, but one can presume time and job pressures are part of the mix.
Another study by the Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland found that volunteering among high school students declined in recent years, even though many expressed growing interest in civic engagement.
The goal ultimately is to make volunteering and community service organic among the young set; to make sure it’s unforced, uncontrived and impassioned. One-off volunteer events like the meal packs can serve as a springboard to making a difference. The hope is they will continue to sign up for additional opportunities to serve.
If, or when, that happens, Dr. King’s warning about the “fierce urgency of now” will be truly realized.
As he said in his “I Have A Dream” speech, “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
Let’s make sure Dr. King’s words don’t ring hollow.”