By Katie V. Jones

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which falls on the third Monday in January, was designated a federal holiday in 1983. The day is broadly celebrated each year as a day of service throughout the country.

To mark this year’s celebration, Laurel’s city government and Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services (LARS) welcomed volunteers on Jan. 16 to participate in a variety of community service projects.

Volunteers painted Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services.
Courtesy of Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services

More than 80 people turned out at the city’s event held at the municipal center. Participants made birthday cards for senior citizens and decorated and filled toiletry bags, according to Christie Johnson, administrative assistant for the city’s communications department. The event began with comments by Mayor Craig Moe and City Councilmember Keith Sydnor (Ward 2), followed by a presentation by Ann Bennett,  Laurel Historical Society executive director, about how volunteering has changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The donations were definitely overwhelming, as was the support on the actual day of the event,” said Johnson in a phone interview, noting that participants filled 150 bags filled with toiletry items and made too many cards to count.

“I always encourage giving back,” Johnson said. “This was the best way I found I could do it.”

During his report to the Mayor and City Council at their Jan 23 meeting, Sydnor thanked Johnson and the city’s communications department for organizing the day of service. He also recognized Marcus Gordon III, a fifth grader at Stonegate Elementary School, for volunteering at the MLK Day event and for attending the council meeting.

Volunteers decorated toiletry bags during the city’s day of service event on Jan. 16.
Courtesy of the city of Laurel.

“The highlight of the day was this young man, Marcus, here,” Sydnor said. “Marcus you are now an honorary council member here in the city of Laurel.”

Marcus Gordon’s mother, Cristen Gordon, said after the council meeting that she brought her son and his siblings to the service event to teach them the “benefit of participating in the community” and to “appreciate what Martin Luther King did.”

Sydnor also recognized Tau Delta Zeta, the Laurel chapter of the national organization Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., for their support at the event.

This was the first year that LARS marked the day of service, according to Shannon Mouton, executive director of the organization. While LARS was open for normal business hours on Jan. 16, volunteers bagged and shelved food in the pantry, painted walls in the lobby,and put together mother baskets, filled with diapers, wipes and bottles, on the second floor. 

“It was very busy. We had people everywhere,” Mouton said. “We even had a celebrity. Candiace Dillard from ‘Real Housewives of Potomac’ was here.”

About 25 volunteers participated in LARS activities, Mouton noted, including representatives from Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, the Prince George’s County Chapter of the National Women of Achievement and the United Way of the National Capital Area.

“It was just a real good day,” Mouton said. “The lobby looks phenomenal. For our first time doing a Martin Luther King [Jr.] Day of service, it was everything I had hoped for.”