Monday, May 20, 2024


Volunteers at Cambridge’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service include a range of ages. (Photo: Many Helping Hands 365)

Volunteers at Cambridge’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service range from 2 to 92, organizers say. (Photo: Many Helping Hands 365)

Local Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service organizers expect another leap in participation Monday, after the first event in 2011 drew 500 volunteers; the 2012 day drew 800; and last year’s drew some 1,500.

“We are trying to help people to understand Martin Luther King’s teachings that we can all do something for somebody else,” said Ann Lawson, of the Many Helping Hands volunteer group, at the most recent City Council meeting.

The previous three-hour event – one of hundreds held across the country – racked up impressive results from its all-ages volunteers, including production of 318 fleece scarves and 178 blankets to warm homeless children and adults; 1,500 bookmarks for The Literacy Project at the city’s public library and Community Learning Center; and 1,056 activity kits for the children of families in emergency room waiting rooms. Volunteers also collected or helped sort 1,500 pounds of clothing, 101 bags of food, 45 bags of children’s books and 545 bags of toiletries donated by almost all the hotels in Cambridge for people in domestic violence and homeless shelters, organizers said.

Ann Lawson and Lori Lander help organize the local Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. (Photo:

Ann Lawson and Lori Lander help organize the local Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. (Photo:

All that goes to 69 city agencies and organizations, reaching probably 7,000 to 8,000 people in need, said Lori Lander, an artist and activist.

“It showcases this community at its best,” Mayor David Maher said of the Day of Service. “The spirit of volunteerism and giving back to the community is so prevalent that day.”

There’s yet another aspect of the Day of Service, which was discussed – appropriately – by Ann Lawson, a volunteer whose focus has made her known as “the Valentine Lady.” She noted that after making 754 Valentine’s Day cards in the first year and doubling that in the second year, volunteers handmade 2,231 cards last year for the elderly, veterans and military personnel.

“Now, those numbers are very impressive,” Lawson said, but what truly impressed her was the impact those cards made to the people who got them. In the first year of the project, she said, she delivered one to a woman named Evelyn. “I handed her a valentine, she cried, I cried. I came back down to the van and everybody said, ‘What happened, what’s wrong,’ and I said, ‘You know, I have a new friend. This made a difference.’ If we didn’t do it for anyone other than Evelyn, it was still important. I have delivered a valentine to Evelyn for the past three years.”

There is a final way it helps to gather volunteers around 92 tables at three locations in City Hall (795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square), YWCA (7 Temple St.) and Senior Center (806 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square): “They will also be learning about the ways that organizations in Cambridge need help all 365 days a year,” Lander said, noting that the census done for the city’s first Volunteer Appreciation Day in November revealed more than 4,500 volunteers putting in close to 200,000 hours doing “the things that make Cambridge the type of community we all want to live in.”

Many organizations use the day as the springboard for service throughout the year. “The needs in our community are particularly great right now. Raising the awareness of these needs will take a sustained effort, and we hope many who volunteer on MLK Day will make an ongoing commitment to serve throughout the year,” said Bob Hurlbut, director of the Cambridge Community Foundation, which supports hundreds of Cambridge nonprofits.

The day starts with a brief welcome on the steps of City Hall at 2 p.m. that includes remarks by Jonathan L. Walton, the Plummer Professor and Pusey Minister of Memorial Church at Harvard University, a poem from poet Toni Bee and a song by Valerie Stephens and the Cambridge Children’s Chorus. The work starts at 2:15 and goes until 5 p.m.

Volunteers are asked to register in advance at to ensure there are enough supplies and bring items to donate, including winter children’s clothing for the city’s Children’s Clothing Exchange; adult winter clothing for CASPAR, On the Rise and the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter; nonperishable food donations for Cambridge’s food pantries; and children’s books to the city’s Youth Centers and literacy programs.

Other events marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Cambridge:

bullet-gray-smallAnnual Martin Luther King Day Commemoration and Remembrance at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 838 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square.

From noon to 1:45 p.m. is a Celebration of Dr. King’s Life and Work for Peace, Justice and Transformation with music by Véronique-Anne Epiter and members of the St. Peter, St. James and St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal churches, as well as remarks from the Rev. Larry Kim, a member of the Cambridge Peace Commission and senior pastor of the Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Central Square. “Please join us and add your presence and voice to efforts in Cambridge for peace and justice in the world – and right here in Cambridge,” organizers said, noting words King spoke in 1967:

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

More than 45 years later, the country “still faces these three existential challenges to our values as a nation,” said Brian Corr, executive director of the Cambridge Peace Commission.

From 2 to 2:45 p.m. is an informal lunch and gathering in the church’s basement. The event page is here.

bullet-gray-smallDay of Service Celebration Dinner at O Sushi Restaurant & Bar, 1 Eliot St., Harvard Square.

The restaurant is offering a 15 percent discount on meals for people who volunteered for the Day of Service. The offer begins at 5 p.m. for those who tell the door staff they volunteered. Reservations are suggested by not required. Call (617) 945-9450. The restaurant’s website is here.