Philly region honors MLK with 1,500 service events

    Donated school supplies pile up inside Girard College at an MLK Day of Service event. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

    Donated school supplies pile up inside Girard College at an MLK Day of Service event. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

    For 19 years, the Philadelphia region has been celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King with a day of service.

     About 5,000 of the 125,000 people who volunteered in the region gathered at Girard College in North Philadelphia. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Philadelphia) says Dr. King would have been pleased.

    “When he died, he didn’t want people to think about the Nobel Prize or the degrees he had,” said Fattah. “He wanted to be remembered for trying to help somebody.  I think that this is an appropriate way to celebrate his birthday. He didn’t sleep late on the last birthday he was alive; he got up he worked all day on the poor people’s campaign.”

    Former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford was a close friend of the civil rights leader and an architect of the day of service. He agrees it’s a fitting tribute.

    “Because I’m sure he thought being just a day off instead of a day on wasn’t in his own spirit,” Wofford said. “This is in his own spirit of being a day on.”

    Girard College was filled with dozens of service groups and other projects to help those in need. Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite was watching as school supply donations were being handed out. He says the paper, pens and crayons will be greatly appreciated given the district’s bare-bones budget.

    “There are things that are limited when you have less revenue. We are buying as much as we can, but we can’t buy as much because we don’t have as much revenue,” Hite said. “The fact that these things are coming by way of all of these organizations that are providing these supplies is something that we are grateful for, and many of our children and all of our families are as well.”

    Marvin Wisher Jr. turned up for a job fair that was rolled into the day’s events.  He says he’s been looking for work for more than a year.

    “I have experience, but they want paperwork, they want you to go back to school but that leads to money,” Wisher said. “If you don’t have a job, then how are you paying for school without being swallowed by loans and you have to maintain your living situation.”

    Over at Bright Hope Baptist Church, there was an event to enroll people for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Andrew Kunka has been volunteering to get others signed up since he got an unbelievable deal. Since he’s unemployed, his premium is $.13 a month.

    “My hopes for this fair are that other people who are struggling other minority individuals who historically haven’t had healthcare, that have been struggling financially will have the opportunity to learn about their options, that this is real, this healthcare they are providing is real, it’s affordable, it’s comprehensive,” Kunka said.

    Less than two miles north at Fair Hill Burial Ground, Maritza Rivera was helping cleaning up the cemetery where some prominent abolitionists are buried. She says she volunteers to honor Dr. King.

    “He is a symbol of hope for so many in the city and I think that symbols of hope need to stay alive because there’s so much despair that you can see in the news. And if the kids are going to look at him and say, ‘I’m going to do something great because he did something great,’ then that’s something that we need to keep alive.”

    There were 1,500 day of service projects in the Philadelphia region.

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