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5th National Day of Service to honor MLK legacy

Sunday - 1/13/2013, 8:49am  ET

President Barack Obama helps paint at Browne Education Campus in D.C. on Martin Luther King Day 2012. (Courtesy of HandsOn Greater DC Cares)
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Stephanie Steinberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - While District officials are busy planning security and transportation for the hundreds of thousands of people expected to flood the capitol next weekend, volunteer groups are prepping their food pantries, garden sheds and book shelves.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee is working with service organizations in D.C. and across the country to coordinate volunteer projects for the 4th annual National Day of Service, which falls during Martin Luther King Day weekend.

Marlon Marshall, a senior adviser of the Presidential Inauguration Committee, says the event couldn't be better timed.

"Community service and MLK go hand in hand," he says. "To have it be during this weekend, I think just right there is a powerful message."

The National Day of Service started during President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009 and has occurred every year since. There will be dozens of service projects throughout the D.C. region over the course of the weekend, and the main event will be held Saturday on the National Mall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Marshall says there will be a service fair, in which at least 99 organizations will have booths set up on the National Mall. Passersby can walk around to get information and also participate in seven mini-service projects. The projects will take about 20 to 30 minutes to complete and range in topics including health, education and the environment.

New this year, participants will be asked to sign a pledge stating the number of service hours they intend to complete throughout the year. The goal is to use the event as a spring board for people to continue volunteering, Marshall says.

"We don't want to use this day and just say, ‘Everyone go do service and that was great,'" he says.

The committee is also building excitement around service by launching a Twitter campaign this week in which people can use the hashtag #iserve and tweet why volunteering is important to them.

During the 2009 inaugural weekend, nearly 10,000 volunteers participated in service projects. Harrison Boyd, HandsOn Greater D.C. Cares spokesman, says organizers hope the number of volunteers will increase to 15,000 this year.

HandsOn Greater D.C. Cares -- a network of 900 nonprofits and 43,000 volunteers -- is one of several local groups partnering with the inaugural committee to plan service projects.

Volunteer Opportunities:

Find a project in the D.C. area or across the United States by visiting the Presidential Inaugural Committee website: www.2013pic.org/service.

On Saturday, HandsOn Greater D.C. Cares will lead a project at the D.C. Amory for thousands of volunteers to package 100,000 care kits to send to deployed service members, wounded warriors and veterans.

Though many D.C. visitors will be focused on attending inauguration festivities on Monday, volunteer groups still plan to hold service projects at recreation centers, senior citizen homes and shelters.

Coordinators like Boyd recognize the challenge of mobilizing volunteers when some Metro stations and areas downtown will be closed.

"Most people say I'm not going to volunteer on Monday because it's just going to be a headache trying to get around," says Boyd, explaining that the majority of projects will be Metro accessible and away from the National Mall to avoid transportation difficulties.

Presidential Inaugural Committee spokesman Cameron French declined to say whether Obama or the first family will be participating in service projects, adding that the committee hasn't announced any details on the first family's weekend activities.

Last year on Martin Luther King Day, the Obamas visited Browne Education Campus -- an elementary school in D.C. -- where they helped paint classrooms. In January 2011, Obama helped painted fruit at Stuart Hobson Middle School in D.C.

Service has been a "big part of the president's agenda," and falls in line with the teachings of Dr. King, Marshall says.

As King once said in a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga. in 1968, "anybody can serve."

"You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love," King said at the time.

Marshall says the National Day of Service gives people the opportunity to follow King's message.

"(To) connect folks to organizations and really build those relationships where we can continue to make good in communities across this country, there's really nothing more that really honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King," he says.

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