Kentuckians spend MLK Day answering call to service

UK students, others take part in nationwide effort

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comJanuary 17, 2012 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?"

On the day the nation paused to remember the civil rights leader's life, thousands of people in Kentucky and millions across the country spent Monday answering King's question.

Instead of taking the day off to catch up on homework, run errands or lounge on the couch, six University of Kentucky students spent Monday elbow-deep in 50-pound bags of rice at God's Pantry Food Bank in Lexington.

The volunteers scooped and divided the rice into small bags to be distributed to one of the pantry's member agencies in 50 Central and Eastern Kentucky counties.

The students found out about the volunteer opportunity through Amanda Pile at the Kentucky YMCA. All of the students are alumni of the YMCA Youth and Government civics program.

Grafton Sizemore, 20, a junior at UK, said the YMCA's Youth and Government programs teach students about service. When he saw Pile's message on Facebook about the MLK Day of Service, he and five other Youth and Government alumni at UK decided to continue that service.

Sizemore said King's contribution to the civil rights movement was important.

"Beyond all of that, he was a man of service," Sizemore said.

Pile and the Kentucky YMCA partnered this year with Youth Service America and the Corporation for National and Community Service to promote a statewide day of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Corporation for National and Community Service and Youth Service America have promoted the day for several years.

This is the first year that the YMCA partnered with the national groups. The goal was to have 3,000 volunteers work at more than a dozen sites throughout Kentucky, Pile said.

Other organizations have been participating in the MLK Day of Service for years, Pile noted. The Day of Service also coincides with the YMCA's annual winter youth conference, Go for It, which teaches teens about service and leadership.

"We believe that to be successful civic leaders, students need to be inspired, informed, skilled and experienced," said Ben Reno-Weber, executive director of the Kentucky YMCA. "Service learning can accomplish all of those things."

Service sites in Lexington sponsored by the YMCA included God's Pantry and the Catholic Action Center.

Maureen Neal, 19, a freshman from Louisville, worked at God's Pantry this summer as part of the YMCA's Service to the Commonwealth program. The program exposes youths to a host of volunteer activities. Neal liked the work at God's Pantry and decided to come back Monday to help. And it might be something she wants to do full-time.

"I want to work for a nonprofit" after college, Neal said.

Other groups also were scheduled to work at God's Pantry on Monday, including a group from Eastern Kentucky University and a group that sponsors international exchange students, said Hillary Bullock, a volunteer services assistant for God's Pantry.

God's Pantry has been a site for MLK Day of Service for several years. On Monday, in addition to university and other groups, there were people who opted to come in and volunteer, Bullock said.

Having additional help makes it easier for the pantry to get more food to more people at less cost, Bullock said.

Although economists have said the recession is officially over, the demand for food has increased, Bullock said. Last year, the food bank distributed 22.9 million pounds of food to more than 211,000 people.

"While our donations have remained the same, the demand is growing," Bullock said. "Hunger doesn't have a season."

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