MLK Holiday Observed with Record-Setting Volunteerism

Friends Hannah Sutter and Liz Nikodem were each other’s motivation as they hunted for near-perfect tomatoes hiding in the growing fields at Mecca Farms in western Boynton Beach on Monday.

“Finding the ones that are so red and round is so satisfying,” said Sutter, a freshman majoring in elementary education at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Liz Nikodem (left), Hannah Sutter and Luke Sellers glean tomatoes for a local food bank during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Palm Beach Atlantic University students Liz Nikodem (left), Hannah Sutter and Luke Sellers glean tomatoes for a local food bank during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

By midmorning, the students, part of a group of about 60 volunteers, were already collecting their seventh box of fresh tomatoes that otherwise would have gone to waste. Though perfectly edible, these were the ones that remained after the pristine ones have been harvested for sale.

Similar scenes of teamwork and service unfolded at various locations in Palm Beach County during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday.

With classes at PBA canceled, some 485 volunteers representing Palm Beach Atlantic University and the United Way of Palm Beach County spent the morning completing activities like painting, scrubbing dirt from tombstones, planting a community garden and hosting a neighborhood block party.

The day began with a rally held on campus. The number of volunteers who turned out set a new record for the MLK holiday, said Director of Workship Kate Magro. 

This year, a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and Points of Light supported the projects, which took place in various Palm Beach County locations.

The gleaning activity took place at two sites. A few miles away from the tomato fields, more than 100 volunteers picked bell peppers at Bedner Farms.

The gleaning effort is run by CROS Ministries, which works with more than 3,000 volunteers each growing season. The food collected is taken by truck to the Palm Beach County Food Bank, which distributes it to more than 100 agencies, such as food pantries.

“I like to describe CROS as the hands that do the picking and the food bank as the feet that deliver the food,” said Emily Zarzycki, camp director for CROS Ministries.

Director of Workship Kate Magro (left) speaks with student leader Emily Freeman at the MLK Day rally in the Greene Complex for Sports and Recreation.Director of Workship Kate Magro (left) speaks with student leader Emily Freeman at the MLK Day rally in the Greene Complex for Sports and Recreation.

By the time the project ended around midday, the volunteers had picked about 8,000 pounds of peppers. Also, the 4,250 pounds of tomatoes collected set a record for CROS, organizers said.

While CROS has some volunteers who return on a regular basis, the practice was new to many. Luke Sellers, a sophomore majoring in international business, was among those new to gleaning.

“I enjoy doing Workship, and I heard from people last year that this is a lot of fun,” Sellers said. 

In the pepper fields, Kenna Schott, a junior majoring in international business, and Rachel Fosbenner, a sophomore majoring in marketing, also found the work challenging but fun.

“There’s so much food that’s still here, and it’s edible and perfect,” Fosbenner said. 

Both students said they felt it was important that they spend the MLK holiday doing Workship.

Schott said that she has long admired King’s teachings. “His ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ is very inspirational,” she said.

She admitted it could be tempting to spend the day resting or studying, “but when we look at the legacy Martin Luther King left, it spurs us to action.”