For some folks, Martin Luther King Jr. Day means a day off from work or school.

But for those who sign up to help at nonprofit groups and churches, such as RISE and the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Hightstown, it is a day “on” – and this year is no exception.

The First United Methodist Church of Hightstown teamed up with La Convivencia on Monday to organize the collection of winter clothes and canned goods for RISE’s food pantry. La Convivencia is a nonprofit group that that promotes dialogue and understanding between races, cultures and religions.

RISE picked up the food and other items and, with the help of some Girl Scouts, unpacked RISE’s van and restocked the food pantry, all while “braving the frigid weather” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, said Leslie Koppel, RISE’s executive director.

RISE offers social support services to those who need it, primarily in the Hightstown Borough-East Windsor Township community.

But it was not just the First United Methodist Church of Hightstown that rallied to help RISE meet its mission of helping others.

Volunteers gathered at the First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown to sort and prepare “night care packages” through RISE’s “Put Poverty to Bed” drive Jan. 18, a few days before the national holiday was celebrated.

The night care packages include new pajamas, socks, stuffed animals, a new toothbrush and toothpaste and books for young children. Donors such as Tuttle Dental Care, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North and the Morgan Lewis law firm gathered dental supplies, books and complete night care packages.

“Children delight in the books and stuffed animals, and parents are thankful for the toothbrush, toothpaste and clean, new pajamas,” said Koppel, RISE’s executive director.

“For many, these basics seem simple, but for the local families we work with, these items are treasures,” Koppel said. The packages are given to the children of low income families when their parents register for services, she said.

Nearly three dozen “packers” – including church members and 22 volunteers from Vibha, a nonprofit group that takes on projects in India and the United States – spent several hours assembling more than 200 night care packages.

Vibha became involved when one of its members, Hamidah Thanawala, approached RISE to offer to help. Thanawala drives past RISE’s office when she takes her son to school and picks him up in the afternoon.

“RISE suggested we partner with them for their ‘Putting Poverty to Bed’ project. The volunteers at RISE and Vibha came together to make this project a fun and successful one to make a difference in the lives of the children that come to RISE for help,” Thanawala said.

The pajama drive, which is coordinated between RISE and the First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown, is in part an answer to the question once posed by Dr. King – “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What have you done for others.'”

For the past several years, RISE has worked with the First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown in the pajama drive to honor Dr. King’s call to action.

The Presbyterian church became involved in the “Put Poverty to Bed” pajama drive in response to President Barack Obama’s challenge to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday by serving others, rather than taking a day off, said Mary Maleski, director of the church’s Children, Youth and Family Ministries.

“I reached out to RISE to see what we might do in partnership with them. It had to be something that all ages could do, with the desire for children to learn at an early age that they can make a difference in the world,” Maleski said.

“It is important because Dr. King was a man of peace, and he had a dream of equality for all. For me, when we work together, we create a community that surpasses the division and we can create a world that draws us closer to the world that he dreamed of,” Maleski said.

 

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