When the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was declared I don’t think people realized it would evolve into a day that is focused on volunteer service. It’s very appropriate the day has become dedicated to community service, as it highlights the role giving back plays as part of American life. For those of us old enough to remember, when the federal holiday was declared many states and localities did not observe the day. Recent events demonstrate that the struggles of the civil rights era are still not resolved and when the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was enacted by the federal government, there was resistance to honoring the day. But as time has passed, the holiday has become more universally observed, and that is because the holiday honors the work Martin Luther King Jr. did to help make a better community.
Today many people celebrate the holiday by participating in a volunteer activity that helps make a stronger community. Volunteering is an American tradition that goes back generations. It is a tradition that when people identify a problem they come together to try to help. Service clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis, Soroptomists or Lions clubs exist so members can act as volunteers to make a stronger community. Faith communities often have a social mission committee that focuses on the role they should play in dealing with community issues. Non-profit organizations have a distinct role in our society because we realize there are some things that are done better by organizations that effectively use volunteers in their work.
The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano depends on volunteers. We have more than 88,000 hours of volunteer time given to us each year. That includes people answering our phones, sorting the food donations we receive and helping with the food distributions we do in the community. Our Board of Directors are all volunteers, the people who help us prepare thank you letters for donors are volunteers, and the people who help bag produce for distribution are volunteers. We depend on people being willing to give their time and talent in order to make our work possible.
Like every other non-profit organization in our community, we need your help. Whether you want to help the Food Bank, a homeless shelter or an education program at your local school, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is an excellent reminder of how much your help is needed. Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the most moving statements ever made about the society we hope we will all see one day. Everyone should be judged on the content of their character, not the color of their skin or any other factor. By volunteering and giving back to our society, we help move ourselves closer to that goal. When we give, we enrich ourselves because we understand the problems others face and what we can do to make a difference. When we give back, we honor Dr. King’s memory.