Friday, January 17, 2014

Volunteers pitch in for Martin Luther King day of service

BINGHAMTON — As soft rock tunes played in the background, Amanda Barker’s paintbrush strokes added some shine to the bookshelf’s new red coat. Across town, Jessica Spellane was filling up on bundles food to sort out for those who need it most.

Giving back was the theme driving volunteers who toiled Thursday at projects around the Binghamton area as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, a prelude to the approaching holiday with community volunteer projects organized through the Broome County United Way.

At the YMCA in Johnson City, Barker and 10 fellow AmeriCorps volunteers splashed the childrens’ play and game room with hues of green, purple and red. They also cleaned up some toys children use each day in the facility.

“They needed a lot of revitalizing here,” said Barker, 25, of Newark Valley. “It makes kids smile, and I love making kids smile — I have a 4-year-old girl myself — and I want to instill in her the same values I was brought up with.”

Endicott resident Jay Vassil, the YMCA maintenance supervisor, said the play room serves for after-school, day care and other childrens’ activities year-round.

At the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse in Binghamton, a handful of volunteers helped CHOW organizers with their routine post-holiday sorting of thousands of items of donated non-perishable food items to distribute to the local food pantries.

Shopping carts overflowed with pasta, jars of peanut butter, soups and more.

“We’re flushed with food,” said Stephen Kamper, CHOW agency relations manager. “The community did a tremendous job this year supporting us.”

As she picked out a range of items to set aside for needy families, Spellane, 22, of Vestal, said she didn’t think twice about pitching in for the cause.

“I’ve grown up in this community and it’s very important to give back,” she said. “Poverty is a big problem, so this is a great opportunity.”

The day of service involved six projects in Broome County, funded through a $5,000 grant awarded by the Regional Volunteer Center of the Southern Tier.

“We hope the sites where we do the projects learn more about young people volunteering and how helpful they can be,” said Joni Kaiser, the United Way community impact and engagement manager.