Volunteers package meals for the hungry at the Sid Jacobson JCC in East Hills on Jan. 20, 2020. Photo by Jessica Militello

For many people, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is usually a day off from work, but 200 volunteers at Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center in East Hills decided the nonprofit’s MLK Day initiative was a good way to help fight hungry in the community while keeping in the spirit of the holiday.

The Sid Jacobson JCC commemorated the day by partnering with the international hunger relief organization Rise Against Hunger to package 30,000 meals for those in need. The center was full of volunteers of all ages packaging rice meals to do their part to reach the goal of ending world hunger by the year 2030.

“We like to call this a day on instead of a day off,” said Susan Berman, the director of community engagement at SJJCC. “But if you’re around [the area] you have the opportunity to do something in Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy to try to improve the world, and that’s what we’re trying to do. So every year we have some type of service project to try to engage as many people as possible.”  

MLK Day is part of a larger effort that takes place across the New York metropolitan area with the UJA Federation that involves more than 5,000 volunteers who spend the day helping those in need. 

At Sid Jacobson JCC, the day’s activities included a complimentary breakfast and coloring activities for children before the meal packaging, which began at noon and lasted until about 2 p.m. People of all ages and backgrounds participated in the event, which involved an assembly line that took a team effort among each table making the proper serving size of each rice meal, bagging it, and passing it down to be weighed to ensure each meal is the same size and weight.

One of the volunteers at the meal packaging event, Cindy Kaplan, is also a regular at many of the center’s volunteering events. Kaplan worked as a pre-k teacher for about 23 years and feels particularly compelled to ensure that everyone, especially children, do not go without regular meals for any reason.

“I don’t think any child should go hungry in this rich country that we have,” said Kaplan. “[The event] is fun but the purpose is to get as many meals out there as we can. We should be able to provide meals around the world.”

The event surpassed its goal and were able to package more than 30,000 meals in just two hours. A first-time volunteer to the event, Marianna Wohlgemuth, like many of the others helping out that day, was just happy to be helping out for a great cause. 

“I’m a volunteer at the crocheting, knitting, and sewing group and that’s how I learned about this event,” said Wohlgemuth, “and we consider it a privilege to be able to participate today.”

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