WASHINGTON — As the nation’s capital teemed with millions of men, women and children hungry for change Monday, thousands of people showed up at Washington’s RFK Stadium to be the change they seek.
In response to President-elect Barack Obama’s "Renew America Together" initiative, patriots young and old, black, brown and white turned out to participate in a national day of service in Washington to celebrate the memory and dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. More than 11,000 public service programs related to the initiative were held around the country Monday, service organizers said.
Even after many people spent the morning standing in line for hours to collect their inaugural ceremony tickets from their representative in Congress, the 600 volunteer organizers at RFK Stadium were bombarded with crowds hoping to lend a hand for a good cause.
Gainesville resident Marsha Stringer was one of them.
Stringer, a graduate of West Hall High School and Brenau
University, said after taking a 15-hour bus ride to Washington this weekend, she didn’t want to twiddle her thumbs while she spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the capital city.
"I couldn’t be in D.C. for Martin Luther King Day and not give back, because I’d be giving back if I were in Hall County," she said.
Stringer said she typically spends the holiday marching through the streets of Gainesville with the Newtown Florist Club. But the Minute Clinic nurse and part-time Northeast Georgia Medical Center employee said with Martin Luther King Jr. Day falling just before the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president, she felt compelled to make the trip to Washington to spend the day in service.
Alongside Americans of all ages, Stringer spent hours putting together more than 20 care packages for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. She walked the package assembly line dumping sunscreen, notebooks and snacks into a plastic bag, and then sat down with thousands of others to write letters to thank troops for their service.
Arturo Corso and his wife, Phaedra also were among those helping compile care packages.
"No matter what you may think about the war on terror, the war in Iraq, or the war in Afghanistan, we are all acutely aware that 18 year olds make up the bulk of the men and woman who put their lives on the line to keep the threat away from our doorsteps," Corso wrote about the event in his blog on gainesvilletimes.com. "These thank you cards and letters will go in each care package and the word from the organizers is that the troops say these letters are the highlight of the package."
As of Monday afternoon, organizers said volunteers had compiled more than 60,000 care packages for troops. Their goal for the day was to assemble 75,000 care packages for U.S. soldiers.
Many Hall Countians also participated in the national day of service by beautifying the grounds of Wauka Mountain Elementary School. Others donated blood or participated in clothes drives.
Stringer credits Obama with motivating the nation to pitch in to make the United States of America a better place to live.
"President Obama has ignited so much hope," she said. "I think it’s amazing to be a part of the movement. It’s overwhelming to see the fact that so many people want to do so much good."