HAMBURG — Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is recognized as a time in which to reflect on societal values, service and altruism.
The Western New York Regional Volunteer Center has partnered with The Service Collaborative of Western New York Inc. and the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County.
Three heads have come together and developed a helping opportunity for Hamburg to involve itself with Joshua Haeick, recreation supervisor for the village of Hamburg and, from The Service Collaborative of Western New York, ServiceCorps Placement Officer Katya Kroll-Haeick and Volunteer Center Program Manager Adam Bartoszek.
“Within The Service Collaborative, we run several different AmeriCorps programs,” Kroll-Haeick said. Also involved in the event are students from the YouthBuild program, which is run out of the collaborative for those who are 16 – 24 years old and are considered “at-risk,” based on income after dropping out of high school. She added that “they come to basically transform their life; to gain meaningful community service, eventually leading toward career or postsecondary education.”
Elyse Whitlock, Antoine Jennings and Megan Darnley are just a few of the YouthBuild team leaders that will be in attendance, during a local MLK Jr. Day food drive.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a nationally recognized time of service. Organizations focus on hunger, to help replenish food banks during the cold period from January – February, after the supply from holiday giving runs low.
Last year, the Hamburg MLK event gathered 3,000 pounds of food; this year, participants said they are looking to at least double, and hopefully triple, that amount.
Tops Friendly Market donated 4,000 bags, which were distributed to residential homes, along with a flier about the day’s activities. Residents were asked to leave non-perishable items in the bag, outside their front door.
With spreadsheets and designated team leaders, community volunteers will gather donated food from specific zones, from 8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Jan. 20; the food will be placed on the nearest street corner. Transportation vans will drive from corner to corner, picking up the bags and dropping them off at the Hamburg Memorial Youth Center, located at 200 Prospect Ave. in Hamburg.
“That was the goal that we had last year: How can we make a big impact, but allow people to participate that can’t get out and walk around the village in freezing cold,” Kroll-Haeick said. “How can little kids participate, and elderly residents?”
“There’s a way for everyone to get involved,” Haeick said. “Whether you’re a resident, someone who doesn’t want to go out and be around people that day, you can throw food on your doorstep and not have to see anybody. Or you can get involved, literally, and be here on the day of.”
In addition to focusing on helping those in need of food, the involved groups are touching on the racial diversity aspect that Martin Luther King Jr. Day represents.
“A lot of [YouthBuild] students come straight from the lowest income neighborhoods in Buffalo,” Kroll-Haeick said. “It gives Hamburg the opportunity to work right alongside the people that may actually be benefitting from the project. The diversity and the culture that’s added to it is sort of second to none.”
“Hamburg is as white as you can get,” Haeick commented. “So to bring in people from different walks of life is important in this village, because it’s culture shock for the white people in Hamburg to say, ‘Oh wow, look at this unbelievably diverse project that’s taking place.’ And believe me when I tell you, after some of the stuff we’ve dealt with, Hamburg needs that.”
Last year, 220 volunteers within the agency volunteered to help with the local event, plus people from the youth center and community volunteers. “It’s important to see all these people here for the same cause, and it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white or purple, you’re all here to benefit the community,” Kroll-Haeick said.
Parking for volunteers will be available at the community center parking lot, with overflow parking available at the Union Pleasant Elementary School. The Hamburg Volunteer Fire Department will be present, to shuttle people to the “kickoff” in the morning; volunteers will come together to be given safety instructions, and will be pumped up, before hitting the field.
Those who choose to place a bag on their front step must be a resident of the village of Hamburg.
Anyone outside the village who is interested in donating is asked to drop off food donations at the Hamburg Memorial Youth Center. Volunteers interested in participating do not have to be residents of Hamburg.
More information may be found at www.volunteerwny.org.