Jewish organization holding service day in honor of MLK

In this file photo, volunteers at last year's Mitzvah Day make sandwiches to distribute to the homeless or those in need of food at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza.

Jewish Council of North Central Florida
Published: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 10:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 10:57 p.m.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day has become a day of service for many who want to remember the civil rights leader.

Which is why the Jewish Council of North Central Florida is hosting the fourth annual Mitzvah Day Sunday instead of Monday, the actual MLK Day holiday, and the day when the Presidential Inauguration will take center stage.

“It’s not a day off; it’s a day on,” said Virginia Brissette, the Jewish Council’s program director.

More than 150 people turned out last year for Mitzvah Day, a day of community service where anyone — Jews and non-Jews — are invited to perform service projects in the community, she said. Organizers hope for a similar turnout this year.

Mitzvah, the Hebrew word for commandment, refers to a good deed.

The free event begins at 9 a.m. with registration and breakfast; a brief talk about community service starts at 9:30 a.m. Early registration is encouraged but participants can sign up at the door. Some projects fill up quickly or can be canceled if not enough people sign up, Brissette said. By 10 a.m., groups will be dispersed to specific projects, where they will work until about noon.

At Temple Shir Shalom, projects include sorting through hundreds of pounds of clothing to donate to local charities or participating in the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Registry. However, one of the most heartwarming projects, Brissette said, is sorting and organizing apartment supplies for 18-year-olds who have aged out of foster care.

The Jewish Council collects supplies, like pillows and sheets, year-round to pack in laundry baskets and garbage bags for former foster care wards who are transitioning to life on their own.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a recognized service day not long after it was made a federal holiday in the 1980s, Brissette said. Mitzvah Day is usually held in November in other parts of the world. The Jewish Council decided to hold it the same weekend as Martin Luther King Jr. Day to reinforce the idea of community service.

Anyone can participate, but children must be accompanied by an adult to take part. College students have participated in the past and are encouraged to participate this year as well, Brissette said.

Volunteers should expect to spend two hours out of their day and week to help those in need, she added.

Brissette said she expects 150 participants this year; in the past, there have been 150 to 180 volunteers.

At Temple Shir Shalom, there will be several child-friendly projects and four to six adult projects. Projects at the other three locations (Congregation B’nai Israel, The Village, and Meridian Behavioral Healthcare) are mainly for adults, but children can participate as long as their parents are present. Although these are breakout locations, Brissette said, most projects will be at Temple Shir Shalom.

Participants will have the satisfaction of knowing they are making Gainesville a better place, said Brissette, who hopes that translates into volunteering on a regular basis and not just once a year.

“It’s not just one day a year,” she said. “It’s an entrée into a community service way of life.”

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