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GREENBELT — “A Day On to Feed the Community,” the first-ever charitable event presented by the National Capital Baptist Convention (NCBC) of Washington, D.C., was not only the latest in a string of efforts designed to provide relief for those affected by the federal government shutdown, but was a special way to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Hundreds from D.C., Prince George’s County and nearby vicinities gathered on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the heart of the Beltway Plaza Mall for food giveaways.
The event attracted hundreds of volunteers, local religious leaders and political figures and was sponsored by the NCBC in partnership with Giant Food Stores, Beltway Shopping Plaza and County Council Member At-Large Mel Franklin.
Franklin, a two-time chairman of the Prince George’s County Council, said the selfless acts of the organizers and 300 volunteers reflected King’s character and philosophy was something that visibly strengthened the community.
“(King) said we are in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. He really meant that we are all in this together, so what happens to one of us affects all of us,” Franklin said.
“We can’t have our residents, our neighbors suffering in this shutdown without doing something to show them that we got their back, we’re gonna make sure that we do our part to make sure their families get fed. And so that’s what this A Day On to Feed the Community is really all about.”
Franklin hinted that A Day On to Feed the Community may become a yearly event, and assured that he and community leaders will continue to hold community service events in like manner to aid the needy.
WPGC Radio was in attendance to provide entertainment and support. About 400 people – many of whom were furloughed federal government employees – registered to receive turkey and ham dinners but organizers expected 500 or more to show up, according to Franklin.
Even a number of community members who did not register received food giveaways were there. In addition to workers and families affected by the shutdown, meals were given to the homeless and bypassers in the mall.
“What this event, the turnout, really tells me at the same time is people and all the volunteers – they want to do something,” Greenbelt Mayor Emmett Jordan said.
“People are concerned, and we as the community all pulled together. Martin Luther King Day of service is a chance to really kind of manifest the ideas that Dr. King helped us solidify, and the idea of coming out and doing community service and volunteering is more important now than ever because people want to help. These are difficult times.”
The Rev. Charles McNeill Jr., the president of the NCBC, was the lead organizer of the gathering.
“First of all, we are living on the legacy of Dr. King, so it’s a day of service. And along with the shutdown of the federal government, we felt that it would be a good time to give back to the community,” said McNeill, pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Northeast Washington.
“Also living up to the mandate of our Christian ethics, which is to help our brothers when they are down; and the mandate by our savior, to go and feed those who are hungry and those in need.”
McNeill further stated that though he and his co-sponsors weren’t able to give registrants all the essentials, the greatest impact of the service day was that people saw that someone cared. In addition to meal giveaways, McNeill said he and his colleagues were there to see what other needs were and services they could provide to underprivileged county residents and furloughed workers.
“For me, to see the smiling faces, makes me feel good, and the hard work that I put in lets me know it’s not in vain,” he said.
Diana Dunn, a resident of Greenbelt, was a recipient of one of the meals. Unbeknownst to her, Dunn’s monthly federal subsidies were drastically reduced, she said, which has consequently had a grave impact on her livelihood.
She presumed the shutdown, which has been in effect for more than a month, is the most probable reason for the reduction of her governmental benefits from December to January.
“I am absolutely disheartened, dismayed, baffled, confused, bewildered – how we got to the state, we are now in as a country, as a people, to tolerate what I call this dictatorship,” Dunn said, expressing frustration with Trump’s controversial executive actions.
Dunn, also a disabled veteran (U.S. Navy) and senior citizen, gladly received a ham and some fruit.
“I thank the Lord because every little bit counts,” she said.
Also in attendance was Walter Kirkland, the founding president of 100 Black Men, a mentorship program based in Bowie. Kirkland is a close associate of Franklin.
Despite the unseasonably cold temperatures on MLK Day, county community leaders wanted to ensure they honored the memory of the nation’s most prominent civil rights leader by giving a sense of hope to afflicted by the shutdown.