On the eve of President Barack Obama's first inauguration — Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2009 — he asked Americans to honor the slain civil rights leader by volunteering in their communities.
In Maryland and across the nation, thousands of people responded to Obama's call, and the number of service events more than doubled to 12,000, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.
On this year's King holiday, thousands of volunteers will be engaged in projects in all 50 states, according to the CNCS, created by Congress in the 1990s to encourage community service. But the exact number of events and participants is hard to track, spokeswoman Samantha Jo Warfield said.
Still, in Baltimore and central Maryland, organizers have a pretty good sense of how many volunteers are coming to their events, and more seem to turn up every year. For some nonprofits, the King holiday is no longer a day off.
"We used to be closed, but now I have to pay staff to come in in support of the volunteers," said Bita Dayhoff, president of the Community Action Council of Howard County. "But it's absolutely worth it."
As they have done in previous years, dozens of volunteers will solicit donations of food items outside supermarkets in Howard County. More volunteers will sort and shelve the donated items at the Howard County Food Bank.
Dayhoff is convinced that Obama's call to action in 2009 firmed up the King holiday as a day of service across the nation.
"His support absolutely encouraged thousands of people to volunteer," she said. She said the day of service likely increased empathy for people who struggle in one of the nation's most affluent counties.
Dave Landymore said "the King holiday as a day of service is here to stay."
Landymore, a 10-year Marine, is executive director of the 6th Branch, an organization of veterans who have been working for the last few years in East Baltimore. On Monday, he expects more than 300 volunteers to help with clearing rubble from vacant lots that will be transformed into an urban farm.
They will use tools on loan from the nonprofit Baltimore Community ToolBank. They will also be working in Ambrose Kennedy Park in the Johnston Square community, part of the 6th Branch's partnership with the Re-Build Johnston Square Neighborhood Association.
"People come out of the woodwork for MLK Day," Landymore said. "We see it grow every year."
In the nearby Oliver neighborhood, Earl Johnson expects between 60 and 100 volunteers to clean up Federal Street. This year's project, he said, was organized by neighborhood residents, a sign that more people recognize the King holiday as a day to volunteer their time and energy.
"I think it's building," Johnson said of the day of service.
Malikah Berry is senior vice president of Points of Light, a national clearinghouse of service opportunities.
"President Obama gave it a huge push during his first inauguration, and it's become one of the most popular days of service in the country," she said.
Berry expects nearly 90,000 people to find community volunteer activities through her organization's website, allforgood.org.
"Over the holiday weekend, people snap up these opportunities," she said. "We've had considerable search traffic."
Some of these projects begin on Monday and go all month, Berry said. Some go over the weekend. The majority are just one day.
At around midday Monday, at First English Lutheran Church in Baltimore, one of the five churches in the North Charles Street corridor collaborating on service projects, Laurel Burggraf and up to 40 other volunteers will be honoring King with "gallons of love" — one-gallon plastic bags filled with toiletries, food and water.
Church families keep the bags in their cars to give to people they see asking for handouts on median strips.
Kelly Hodge-Williams is president and CEO of Business Volunteers Maryland, which coordinates volunteer opportunities for the business community.
"Having a day of service gives people the impetus to do something, which many don't seem to get around to on their own," she said. "In fact, the number one reason people volunteer is because they are asked. So, MLK Day of Service is a nationwide 'ask.'
"My hope is that it serves as an opportunity to send a message to start doing something [Monday] and ... volunteer all year and, more than that, all your life."
Where to find service projects