Students unite for MLK Day of Service

HEADS DOWN, HANDS ON. Each packaged meal requires three scoops of oatmeal, sugar, and cinnamon in rotating order. Each table is busy with their hands and minds.
HEADS DOWN, HANDS ON. Each packaged meal requires three scoops of oatmeal, sugar, and cinnamon in rotating order. Each table is busy with their hands and minds.
Rita Li


Name tags on, hairnets ready and hands sanitized, the Leathams gathered together in the small gym on a slightly below-zero Monday morning. Joining other families, they participated in the annual MLK Day of Service, pouring their hearts into every serving of cinnamon instant oatmeal meal.

“[As a family], we really enjoy doing activities together, especially when it helps other people, and it’s a nice way to end the three-day weekend,” sophomore Eloise Leatham said. Leatham attended this event with her sister, senior Audrey Leatham and their parents.

MLK Day, observed nationwide as a ‘day on, not a day off,’ honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy by empowering individuals to strengthen communities and addressing social issues. The MLK Day of Service was hosted on Monday to continue embodying Dr. King’s principles of equality, unity, and civic engagement through volunteering.

“It’s a great time to bring the whole community together as one school. It’s [an] opportunity for us to not only be in St. Paul, but of St. Paul. We are not just a school in the city of St. Paul, but we are also a school that is committed to doing work, starting with what’s possible around us,” Head of School Luis Ottley said.

Organized by the Parent Association MLK Committee, the school partnered with the Harvest Pack for the second year to host two meal-packing sessions (10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.). Harvest Pack, established in 2012, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to alleviating hunger in the US and internationally through volunteering efforts. The organization combats food insecurity by empowering volunteers to organize meal-packing events within their local communities. The packaged meals are subsequently donated to other nonprofit partners for distribution to communities in need.

King’s Day is not about consumerism; it’s about volunteering

— Stuart Arey

Harvest Pack provides the necessary materials to package 30,000 meals in the two sessions — the equivalent of raising $0.30 per meal or $9,000 total. Volunteers sign up to package meals, supply materials, set up tables, serve lunch and clean up.

“It’s really rewarding,” sophomore Trevor Hou said.

Heads down, music playing, busy hands pouring oatmeal, sugar and cinnamon down the plastic bags. With every finished packed box was the ring of a gong from one member of each table. “We are making an impact that is really tangible. It’s cool to see the boxes, and I love the gong,” Lillian Leatham, Audrey and Eloise’s mom, said.

This event not only served as remembrance for King and his values, it strengthened bonds within the SPA community.

“You get to bond with your family members in ways you normally can’t,” Hou said. Lower and Upper School students, faculty and staff, and 200+ members of the school’s community merged together in one gym, striving towards the same goal: to combat hunger.

“King’s Day is not about consumerism; it’s about volunteering,” physics teacher Stuart Arey said. Instead of treating this holiday as a day off to relax and shop, people should view it as a day of active service to give back and contribute to the greater good.

Many volunteers complimented the neat organization of the event. It required minimal skill, so it was accessible to everyone. “It’s super easy for me to come here because they organize the whole thing… quite frankly, [it’s] the least we can [do]. We care about hunger and want to support community events at SPA, so it feels good to be here,” Lillian Leatham said.

The goal of packaging a total of 30,000 meals was reached through the hard work of both groups. The first group had a great start and moved swiftly, packaging over 16,320 meals. The second group packaged the remaining supplies, which was about 13,680 meals, finishing 20 minutes early.

“[MLK day] can’t be a day, can’t be a week. It’s every day, even if you don’t literally say his name, because he’s just one person, but [he was] someone very impactful and a great leader. He represented communities and people who want to do service, and that has to be every day,” parent and history teacher Aaron Shulow said.

MLK Day of Service serves as an inspiration for ongoing commitment to service throughout the year. The hope is to continue motivating individuals to contribute positively to the communities around them beyond the holiday.

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