Volunteers In Rutland Mark MLK Day By Doing Service

01/21/13 5:50PM By Nina Keck
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VPR/Nina Keck
Joan Marie Misek of Vermont's AmeriCorps program talking to local volunteer Jessica Fairweather while they helped prepare meals for the homeless in Rutland.

Seventy volunteers from across Vermont marked the Martin Luther King holiday by taking part in a host of different community service projects in Rutland.

Volunteers started early Monday morning with a pancake breakfast at Grace Church and and then headed to a variety of sites across the city. 

Melissa Schlobohm, of the national service organization AmeriCorps, organized the event.  She says she chose Rutland partly because of the need she knew existed there, but also because she found the local nonprofits so progressive and welcoming. 

She says her first call was to the Community Cupboard. "And they were saying that the food shelves had 50% of their stock and the food shelves were going empty."   Schlobohm says, "I really wanted to create a food drive so I started with that.  Then I thought, let's address the kids, so I called the Mentor Connector and the financial literacy program came." 

Then she called the local Boys and Girls Club, the Rutland Women's Shelter, the Vermont Achievement Center and others.

Schlobohm says, "It just all evolved into this beautiful collaboration of 10 organizations with 15 different projects all in the name of Martin Luther King, who devoted his life to equality and social justice and opportunity for all."

One group of volunteers spent the morning preparing ham and broccoli casseroles; part of a Feed the Freezer program which makes and distributes about 200 meals a month for the homeless. 

Ken Benton serves with AmeriCorps in Montpelier and says this project hit especially close to home for him.  "For a while, actually, my mother and step father were homeless in Florida and they were living in hotels."  Benton says, " just talking to her I got a real understanding of how hard it is to feed yourself in that situation.  So it's really nice cooking a really good meal for people who are in similar situations."

He says having so many people volunteering on the same day makes it more visible in the community and he hopes it might encourage those who don't normally volunteer to start. 

A few feet away volunteer Aria Brickner-McDonald nodded. "I can only imagine," she said, "if every single person did what we're doing today to help other people - how much change we could create and how much more we could do. "

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