Numbers exceed expectations at MLK Day of Service

PHOTOS: ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER About 5,000 volunteers show up yesterday at MLK Day of Service hub Girard College to volunteer. It was one of 1,700 sites around the area where residents pitched in to clean, feed, help and counsel.
PHOTOS: ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER About 5,000 volunteers show up yesterday at MLK Day of Service hub Girard College to volunteer. It was one of 1,700 sites around the area where residents pitched in to clean, feed, help and counsel.
Posted: January 22, 2014

WHILE MANY people had a day off from work yesterday, record numbers of volunteers came together in an act of selflessness to celebrate the 19th annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service.

Todd Bernstein, founder and director of the nation's oldest and largest MLK Day event here in Philadelphia, said turnout yesterday surpassed his expectations, with a record 125,000-plus volunteers who took part in 1,700 community-service projects throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

At Girard College alone, about 5,000 volunteers showed up at the day's signature event, which marked the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that desegregated public schools, Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954.

Bernstein said the focus of public education on MLK Day this year comes on the heels of what he called a "decimating" $304 million budget deficit haunting Philly's public-school system.

Throughout the day, volunteers helped assemble, pack and sort school supplies to be donated to some of Philly's neediest schools.

"Given the juxtaposition of marking the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board [of Education], with the fiscal crisis in Philadelphia schools, there was this confluence that I think created an even more sense of duty to attempt to find concrete solutions to the school crisis," Bernstein said.

"Collecting school supplies may seem like a drop in a cavernous bucket, but we've taken supplies to schools, and I can tell you, when we go to a school, they just don't have resources, and some of them are out-of-pocket contributions by teachers or principals. So it really means something to those individual schools."

This year marked another first - a new partnership between the MLK Day of Service and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The ensemble performed its 24th annual Martin Luther King Jr. tribute concert at the Girard College chapel, capping the day's special events.

Not more than four blocks south, Seth Tannenbaum, a graduate student at Temple University, led a discussion at Eastern State Penitentiary that drew from excerpts from King's 1963 letter from a Birmingham, Ala., prison. Actor Dax Richardson read from the letter to about 40 people.

Yesterday also included the third annual jobs-and-opportunity fair, at which 500 prospective employees connected with 20 local job providers for a chance at stable employment. College-preparatory workshops were held to help job-seekers fine-tune resume writing, interviewing skills, restoring credit and helping veterans move from active military service to civilian life.

Attendees yesterday included Mayor Nutter and his wife, Lisa, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and schools Superintendent William Hite.

Interstate General Media, which owns the Daily News, was among 53 sponsors of the event.


Twitter: @RuffTuffDH

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