RIVERVIEW – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are we doing for others?’”
So he likely would have been glad to see churchgoers from South Shore UMC team up with local college students to mark the national holiday in his honor by helping the poor.
While many college students celebrated Martin Luther King Day with a day off and little else, students from Hillsborough Community College’s SouthShore campus celebrated his legacy by helping South Shore United Methodist’s Backpacks on a Mission program.
Backpacks on a Mission, a South Shore UMC charity set up to feed poor children, won a $4,000 grant from the community college and, cash in hand, was able to buy food. Part of the agreement upon receiving the grant was that college students would help out with the program, and students from HCC were glad to do so.
Started in 2011 with 20 local students receiving assistance, Backpacks on a Mission now provides 110 youngsters at local public schools backpacks full of food every Friday.
Many receive free school breakfasts and lunches but children sometimes go hungry on the weekends, and that’s where the extra food is critical, said Kathy McGartland, who coordinates the church backpack ministry.
Students for the program are selected through consultation with school guidance counselors and social workers at Corr, Summerfield and Summerfield Crossings elementary schools.
“We have about 25 volunteers who help on a weekly basis at the church,” McGartland said.
Funded entirely by donations and grants, the ministry spends about $1,500 a month on food.
“I have lived in Riverview for 28 years, and it’s just in my heart and passion to help people in need,” McGartland said.
It’s the second year HCC SouthShore students have participated in the “MLK Day of Service: A Day On, Not a Day Off.” The student’s charitable work was spurred by a HCC grant to honor King’s legacy and encourage students to work in the community.
Helping with the program gives the King holiday more purpose, said Brittany Jackson-Marquis, secretary of HCC SouthShore’s student government.
“Yes, we get a day off but I love the opportunity to do something to take that day off to make it about more than just sleeping in and not doing homework,” she said.
“I was kind of surprised to see so many of my peers here today. It’s hard to get them to come after class to do something fun, so to see them here on Saturday morning -- perky, on time and ready to serve -- is great.”
-- Kevin Brady is a freelance writer based in Lake Wales.