HONORING KING: Jessica Beard, 22, of Irvine, spent the morning of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday digging holes and planting native plants in the Santiago Park NaturePreserve Habitat. She was joined by over 80 other volunteers on the project.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hundreds volunteer to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

More than 900 people pack food, clean streets and pick crops to help others.

By ELLYN PAK
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

They filled boxes with food and refurbished books. They helped needy neighbors clean up their streets and plucked vegetables for a food bank.

More than 900 people – schoolchildren, college students, families and other ordinary residents – volunteered throughout the county Monday to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of service. “Our hope is that there is a take-away today of doing a good deed,” said Dan McQuaid, president of the Volunteer Center Orange County, which coordinated five simultaneous events.

In Irvine, volunteers picked thousands of pounds of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower from the Incredible Edible Park for the Second Harvest Food Bank. The park is on a piece of donated land and provides more than 500,000 pounds of produce each year for the needy. “I think it’s important to volunteer so you know you’re helping people, for one,” said 10-year-old Cooper Hall of Tustin, as she picked cauliflower. “Two, you know you’re saving peoples’ lives, even if you’re only cleaning up a park,” she added.

The Volunteer Center has coordinated the county’s Service Day project for eight years to promote diversity, community responsibility and unity – a message that King advocated during the Civil Rights Movement. Last year, more than 700 volunteers pitched at two volunteer sites. Monday’s events also kicked off the Volunteer Center’s 50th anniversary.

Elsewhere, volunteers in Santa Ana repaired books for needy children and planted trees at the Santiago Park Nature Reserve. Local paramedics brought in old, donated books on gurneys to be saved. Volunteers also helped Orange residents clean up their El Modena neighborhood streets. They cleared alleys littered with beer cans and cigarette butts and took out trash from homes.

Hundreds packed boxes of food at the Community Action Partnership’s Orange County Food Bank in Garden Grove. The sessions were the more popular ones throughout the day, as hundreds signed up. “I like volunteer work,” said Tony Tran, a 17-year-old student at Rancho Alamitos High School in Garden Grove. “I like helping people.” Volunteers filled pallets with containers of rice, dry milk, canned vegetables and fruit, juice, cereal, canned beef and peanut butter. Last year, volunteers packed 10,183 boxes, a number that this year’s volunteers hoped to surpass. Ninety-five percent of people who receive donated food in Orange County are not homeless but are merely struggling to survive, according to food bank officials.

“I just like doing this kind of thing,” said 68-year-old Dolores Ealy-O’Neal, as she stood in a line among 20 people and filled boxes with canned corn. “This is a good activity for us. I like helping.” Ealy-O’Neal, a Santa Ana transplant who grew up in Washington, D.C., listened in person to King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial. Ealy-O’Neal said she remembers the day as a hot and emotional one. “Every time I hear the speech, I go back to that day,” she said. “It made you feel like you were part of it and that things were going to change.”

Contact the writer: 714-704-3788 or epak@ocregister.com