So it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. What does that mean (other than a cold Monday in January)? It’s a federal holiday and I am blessed to work for a company that give me this day off. My son is also off from school. And while I appreciate a three-day weekend (who doesn’t), I think the weekend should be more than just sleeping in and getting a good deal from some retailer. I mean when did President’s Day become a day to get a good deal on a car? Or Memorial Day the time to get a bargain on bathing suits?
Doing some quick internet research (ok, Google), here’s an interesting tidbit that you MAY or may not know: In 1994, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, designating the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday as a national day of service and charged the Corporation for National & Community Service with leading this effort. Taking place each year on the third Monday in January, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service–a “day on, not a day off.”
CNCS, by the way, is the federal agency that gets America volunteering through its AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Social Innovation Fund and George H.W. Bush Volunteer Generation Fund, programs that operate all year long. In 2009, with America stuck in a recession, President Barack Obama added to the mix with United We Serve.
With limited time and resources, what can I do to serve? Scratch that. What can my FAMILY do, because we need to pass on the importance of the day, and the MEANING behind it, to the younger generation? (Sadly, for me now, almost every generation is the younger generation!)
I had two thoughts: Keep it simple and keep it local. Although Verona might be considered a relatively affluent town, the (often hidden) truth is there IS poverty here. There are plenty of people who struggle to keep a roof over their head, to keep clothes on their backs and to feed their family. (Confession time: If it weren’t for special circumstances and an abundance of blessings, my family would not be able to afford to live in this town.)
I can’t help with the keeping the roof, but I can shout out ways to cloth and feed a family, without leaving the township. The First Presbyterian Church has a Thrift Shop (open Tuesdays and Saturdays) where gently used (and sometimes even brand new with tags on) clothing (as well as other household items) can be found at prices that incredibly reasonable (and sometimes beyond belief). The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit runs a food pantry (open the fourth Sunday of every month). Recognizing the needs of the community, both churches will work individuals and families outside of their regularly scheduled “business” hours and both are incredibly sensitive to privacy; simply contact them at 973-239-3561 for First Presbyterian and 973- 239-2850 for Holy Spirit.
Having made many donations to the First Presbyterian Thrift Shop (as well as making some incredible purchases there as well–ask me about the little boys sports jacket that I got not too long after the shop opened and how I nearly cried when I returned it after several years because my son had outgrown it!–I thought now might be the time to give to the Holy Spirit food pantry. (Which very smartly accepts donations in a 24-hour bin located in the church’s parking lot!)
In all honesty, I HAVE given to the food pantry before, but indirectly. As a member of First Presbyterian, we collect items weekly and then bring them to Holy Spirit. But this time I wanted our family to do something hands on. So here’s what I did.
After Sunday services, I purchased (as I regularly do) gift certificates to one of our local grocery stores. (Five percent of my gift card purchase goes back to the church, so it’s a win/win situation.) However, this time I ALSO purchased an additional card with the idea that my family would take the card and buy as much as we could for the food pantry. (A list of items needed can be found here.) I thought this would also be a great opportunity for my son to see how to stretch a dollar and to (hopefully) appreciate all that we have in our home’s pantry.
With a $25 gift card we were able to walk away with the following:
4 cans of soup
12-pack of ramen
3 cans of beans
4 boxes of pasta
2 bottles of dishwashing detergent
3 bottle of shampoo
1 bottle of laundry detergent
4-pack of soap
2 boxes of tea bags
Not bad, but certainly not enough. (And in honesty, we went over our $25 budget. Made me think what if I DIDN’T have the resources to throw in the extra few dollars? What would I have put back? What would my son have put back?)
Dropping the food off at the bin, it felt good to know that we were helping local residents. But it felt bad too knowing that as much as we were helping, our resources were just a drop in the bucket. The upside, it DID make my son think and he said he would like to do this again. (Only caveat is that he’d like to do it when he was feeling better since he is, hopefully, getting over a cold.) Perhaps this could be an annual day of service event for us?
But we don’t HAVE to wait for the next Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and neither do you. Hunger in our town waits for no holiday. Donations are always needed and ALWAYS are gratefully received. I know I’ll be thinking of that during my next grocery store run. Won’t you?
Beth Shorten is a life-long resident of Verona. For five years, she has been chronicling life here on her personal site, Bfth’s Boring Blog.