The Ottumwa Courier

January 22, 2013

MLK Day inspires community service

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered for his activism, with an emphasis on “active.” So it makes sense to some that we use the day honoring him for helping others.

“Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday that is also a national day of service,” said Ali Wilson, coordinator of the United Way Volunteer Center in Ottumwa.

Instead of a holiday that’s just another day off, said Wilson, it’s “a day on,” honoring King and the millions of other community volunteers who have made a positive difference in this nation. She said King was a champion of community service and activism.

“It’s a day to motivate people to volunteer,” she said. “This is our second year of doing a volunteer project on Martin Luther King Day.”

The Indian Hills Community College “principals of management” class researched potential service projects. Projects would have to engage volunteers and meet a need in the community.

The proposal accepted was assembling disaster preparedness kits.

Ottumwa’s Southern Prairie chapter of the American Red Cross is helping to distribute the kits, and it was the Red Cross office on East Main Street that served as the location to assemble the kits.

The kits are basically the essentials needed in a disaster. Wilson said everyone should have a disaster kit ready to go. Their kits are first going to the high rises, where many vulnerable people reside, like the disabled and elderly.

The kits contain a couple small bottles of water, a first aid kit, toiletries, a flash light and other very basic, mostly light supplies in a sturdy bag.

Everyone should have a disaster kit, said Julie Smithart, an AmeriCorps member assisting the Red Cross.

“You can just grab it and go,” she said.

That is, of course, if the kit is already assembled. Smithart said families should have it prepared before they have an emergency, rather than trying to put something together during an emergency.

She teamed up with the United Way of Wapello County for the day of service.

“If it was something I was doing myself, I wouldn’t reach nearly as many people [as I do] by working with our partner agency, the United Way,” said Smithart.

The Red Cross also gains the benefit of the United Way Volunteer Center, which helped bring in helpers Monday morning from AmeriCorps, Legal Aide and the Foster Grandparents Program.  

Wilson said most of the funding for the project came from the same place as the funding for the United Way Volunteer Center: The Volunteer Generations Fund.