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Many in state honor legacy of MLK with volunteer work

Arkansans spend day serving by Remington Miller | January 17, 2023 at 5:40 a.m.
Keith Robertson, from Des Arc, helps hang a flag honoring Martin Luther King before the start of a food giveaway to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission in Little Rock on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Arkansans honored Martin Luther King Jr. by volunteering to help with several service projects around the state on Monday.

In Jonesboro, volunteers lent a hand at KLEK 102.5 FM, the city's first and only minority-owned radio station, founder and General Manager LaGanzie Kale said.

"We were expecting maybe three or four, and we had about 20 people show up," Kale said.

Volunteers were able to help organize donor records and help digitize music for the nonprofit radio station.

"We are definitely honored to have had volunteers here today; it was surreal to have more volunteers than work," Kale said, "I think it really speaks to Dr. King's legacy with a national day of service. I feel like this year more than years past have heeded the call to service.

Kale also noted the diversity of the volunteers: "It was like Dr. King wanted, people of all races coming together."

Kale said that the station will not always need 20 volunteers but those coming in Monday were able to leave their name and information to be contacted about serving again.

"Even if we just had one or two people here a day that would help so much," Kale said. "We are working on eventually getting a link on our website where new people can sign up to be volunteers on days that work for them."

Kale said that those interested in volunteering can call the station at (870) 203-9951 to sign up.

In Mabelvale on Monday, volunteers collected and organized donations for the new Mabelvale Middle School food pantry.

Ben Thielemier, a spokesman for the Clinton Foundation, said volunteers from the Clinton Presidential Center, Engage Arkansas, City Year Little Rock, the city of Little Rock and the Little Rock School District came together to focus on food insecurity on the national day of service.

Thielemier said the food pantry will support students and their families at the middle school and Mabelvale Elementary.

City Year Little Rock, a nonprofit committed to improving education, had several volunteers helping Mabelvale Middle School collect and organize items donated for those in need.

Elise Roden, a volunteer with City Year, said she helped carry in donations from the food drive and built a shelf in the pantry.

"We want to help get this done before the school year really starts back up," Roden said.

Jewels Dabdub, another volunteer with City Year, said the program focuses on helping the whole school and the whole child.

"One in five children deal with food insecurity in Arkansas," Dabdub said, "We want students to do their best, and it is hard to do that if they are hungry."

AmeriCorps volunteer Kaylea Luker said, "I feel like volunteering honors Dr. King's memory. If he were still alive today he would support doing this and doing it all across America, not just in one school and not just in one state."

Tonjuna Iverson, principal of Mabelvale Middle, said the food pantry is a service to their students and their community.

"We are excited because we now get to have our first distribution within hopefully the next couple of days because of all the donations that we are receiving today," Iverson said. "Hopefully we will be able to do a couple before the end of the month because we have so much. We want to definitely get in and get it out to the families that need it."

Iverson said the pantry will provide not only non-perishable food items, but also refrigerated and frozen food items as well as toiletries.

"To be able to do this on our MLK day of service is just an awesome experience," Iverson said.

"This is helping meet those acute community needs where they are," Thielemier said, "The school knows the needs of their students better than probably anybody else.

"It is so important on this national day of service to give back to our communities and improve the community you live in. It was important that we did this on MLK day to honor that."

Thielemier said Engage Arkansas created Little Free Food Pantries using old newspaper dispenser boxes donated by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

"Those are being repainted, repurposed, upcycled and distributed to communities across the state," he said, "It's a wonderful opportunity for community members to serve in their own community."

Rock Region Metro offered fare-free rides on bus zones and micro-transits to support the day of service in partnership with the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.

Becca Green, a spokesperson for Rock Region Metro, said the transportation company has done this for several years.

"It is always a day with high ridership, maybe now a little less compared to pre-pandemic years," Green said Monday afternoon, "We want to do this to honor MLK Day."

Green said the company really takes on the idea that the day of service is a day on, not a day off.

"Anytime you are providing fare-free rides you are losing money, but it is important enough that both us and the Arkansas MLK commission want to keep doing this. We want people that want to provide an act of public service to get where they need to be," she said.

DuShun Scarbrough with the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission said the partnership embodies and speaks to service itself.

"People that want to perform acts of service but have problems with mobility have hindered opportunities, so it is a wonderful thing to partner with Rock Region Metro to do something wonderful for Central Arkansas," Scarbrough said.

In Little Rock there were two service projects involving volunteers picking up litter and trash.

The Central Arkansas Master Naturalists led an event picking up trash Monday morning near Fourche Creek as part of the Keep Little Rock Beautiful initiative.

Reed Green, with the Central Arkansas Master Naturalists, said Monday that the volunteers were mainly focusing on getting trash out of the bottoms.

"We are cleaning the bottoms, that is an 1,800-acre piece of land owned by the Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department that we hope gets turned into an official park when it is ready," Green said.

Volunteers were also tasked with helping clean the two 100-foot-long trash booms in Fourche Creek, where Green says two-thirds of the thousands of pounds of trash they've removed since November 2020 was taken from.

Green said that volunteers extracted 83 bags of trash weighing 1,158 pounds by Monday afternoon.

"That's 21,730 pounds since November 14, 2020," Green said. "That's a lot of Fourche funk."

"Today is a much bigger crowd," Green said, comparing it to the Central Arkansas Master Naturalists' usual cleanups on the second Saturday of each month.

"We are working to keep the Natural State natural," Green said.

Norm Bernar, a board member of Keep Little Rock Beautiful, a nonprofit focused on helping the environment, was also helping with the Fourche Creek cleanup.

"I think it is great to have people out here. We can see their eyes get opened when they see the litter. A lot of people don't realize how much trash ends up in waterways," Bernar said.

Bernar said that 33 volunteers collected 49 bags of litter and 10 tires as a part of Keep Little Rock Beautiful's Adopt-A-Highway cleanup.

Another service project started about 11 a.m. at Interstate Park on Arch Street near Interstate 30, also hosted by Keep Little Rock Beautiful, where volunteers would pick up trash around the park.

Suzanne Hirrel, the Litter Prevention Chair of Keep Little Rock Beautiful, said Monday that this was the second cleanup they'd hosted on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"We got a good turnout, today we've had about 28 people show up to help clean," Hirrel said.

Volunteers were able to borrow trash grabbers, garbage bags and bright vests while working on the road outside Interstate Park. Hirrel said the volunteers were divided into groups with board members and other leaders and spread out along a mile stretch to pick up trash.

"We've had a bit fewer this year than last, but we're happy people showed up," Hirrel said, "This road [Arch Street] is on the way to a landfill, so it can get really dirty."

Rebecca Glazier and her son Wilk were volunteers cleaning up around Interstate Park.

"We looked online and found a way to serve and keep the Little Rock community beautiful, and we thought it would be a good way to honor Martin Luther King today," Rebecca Glazier said.


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