Aptos, CA – Terry Ballantyne normally spends her day negotiating real estate deals, but this morning, she's outside the Aptos La Selva Fire Station number 2 looking inside a collection bin. "So we've got some mittens, some gloves and a little handmade quilt for a child, more blankets and some comfortable pillows," said Ballantyne.
A few years ago, Ballantyne was an unlikely candidate for this task. The way she tells it, she used to sit on the sidelines as a passive observer and definitely wasn't politically active. But then she became involved in the campaign to elect Barack Obama. And before she knew it, she had 22 strangers sitting in her living room at a meeting she organized to talk about health care, the economy and government waste. "The genesis was that and then people contributed ideas, energy and enthuthiasm and determination and vision and collectively where we didn't have answers, we found answers, it was like magic," she said.
That meeting led to others, which led to why she's out in front of the fire station. The group organized a blanket and warm clothing drive in response to President-elect Obama's call on all Americans to serve their communities. "I was, you know buying these bins to distribute to the fire station and I thought, well how did this happen? To me, it has affirmed what Barack Obama has said all along that ordinary people just taking a step forward can move mountains. You know you don't have to do the whole mission yourself, you just take a step, and someone else takes a step and pretty soon you have a line of people taking a first step and a second step and anything is possible," she added.
Their drive is just one of thousands of nationwide service activities planned for this long holiday weekend. Activities on the central coast, include everything from beach clean-ups to serving meals at area soup kitchens and habitat restoration in local parks. Martin Luther King Junior Day has been a national day of service since 1994 when congress passed a bill designating it as time to volunteer. But the President-elect's call to action has dramatically raised awareness about the day's purpose. "We couldn't possibly anticipate the kind of response we've been seeing," said Johnathan Williams who works for the government entity that organizes the annual King Day of Service. He says last year, there were 5000 activities nationwide with about half-a-million volunteers. "We've doubled the number of projects, already, that people have registered for the day. And, as I mentioned, we anticipate the number of volunteers, across the country will be in the millions." Williams adds the hope is that some of those millions will stay involved.
Back at the Fire Station, Ballantyne says this Spread the Warmth campaign is just the beginning. "For our fist project as neophyte activists, we thought we could handle that," she said, "But I think what I'd like to do is have this group move forward to become an educating force so that we become better informed and we can divide up and take issues, so as we become more educated we can find specific actionable goals within our community." But for now, they're collecting blankets and warm clothing at locations throughout Santa Cruz County and will bring them to local shelters on Monday.