By Alix Hines and Katherine Johnson
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – When Ashley Pelli decided to teach to her home-schooled daughter the importance of citizenship, she found the best way to do it was by example. Pelli chose to start by helping homeless and transient people.
“You could hand them some change, but they’re still out on the street the next day,” she said. So Pelli and her daughter decided they should “just go for it”: On Saturday, they will distribute sandwiches, water and hand warmers to the homeless as part of the National Day of Service.
President Barack Obama designated Saturday, Jan. 19, as the National Day of Service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and in connection with his second inauguration. The community service efforts span categories like the environment, veterans’ affairs, health and education.
There will be 16 events in the Richmond area.
Peter Whinn, an organizing fellow for the National Day of Service, estimates that several hundred people will participate in the volunteer activities in Richmond. The goal of the program is to introduce people to community service.
“There’s really something for everyone,” Whinn said. “If you have a couple minutes, that’s great, but if you have half a day or the full day, you and your whole family can come to one of our bigger events.”
Pelli said about 10 people will join her and her daughter on Saturday to help pass out food and learn each person’s story.
“Maybe if we do this, people can maybe recognize that it doesn’t have to be something you do one day a year. This can be something people do for each other all the time,” she said.
Pelli’s daughter has another goal: “She has a thing about making people smile,” Pelli said.
Linda Edwards, former director of economic development for Louisa County, hopes to extend the National Day of Service beyond national borders.
She is the founder of A Fair Trade World. The organization sells jewelry made by women living in extreme poverty from Thailand to Uganda; it works to ensure that these women receive a fair price for their labor.
Edwards and 10 volunteers will set up at Ellwood Thompson’s Natural Food Market, 4 N. Thompson St., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday [Jan. 17]. The group will help Richmond residents see how local service can impact global poverty.
“We want them to understand what fair trade means to these people around the world when we try to sell their products,” Edwards said.
Volunteers will help cut out labels, make phone calls and put together mailings about new products to help sell them at a fair trade price. Edwards said she wants to participants and passers-by to understand that Americans perpetuate poverty by asking to pay less for items than what the goods are truly worth.
She said awareness is the primary goal – because awareness leads to action, even in a small way, like buying fair trade jewelry.
Jessica Johnson, a regional leader for Obama’s Inaugural Committee, helped organize a service activity at the Central Virginia Food Bank. From 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, a group of 25 volunteers will sort donations, restock shelves and organize food arriving at the warehouse.
“The food bank is a working warehouse, a working donation center. And the point is, we want people to be connected to things that they can do throughout the year – not just this one day,” Johnson said.
The value of community service was instilled in Johnson at a young age. Her grandmother, an elementary teacher, told her that for some children, the school lunch is the only meal they will eat all day.
Even today, Johnson sees hunger as an issue in Richmond, and she sees volunteering as a way to help the community.
“Our president four years ago, when he was president-elect, he started this tradition of the Day of Service. It’s not a politics thing, but he really is just interested in serving the community and letting people know that you can have your own hand in your own change,” Johnson said.
The theme of the inauguration is “Our people. Our future.” Johnson said that simply donating a can of beans to a child in need contributes to the youngster’s future.
During his inauguration in 2009, Obama said, “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility: a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly.”
The National Day of Service is dedicated to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Obama is asking the nation to serve not just this Saturday but every day in some small way.
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On the Web
For more information about volunteer opportunities, visit www.2013pic.org/service
. Enter your ZIP code for a full list of National Day of Service events in your area.