The President's Call to Serve

Salinas, CA – It's 7:30 on Monday morning, and Jandi Dunlap is coordinating her volunteers at Dorothy's Kitchen in Salinas. They're serving a breakfast of French toast, oatmeal and fruit to several dozen homeless people. Dunlap says normally she has about six volunteers to work with, but today she has a twelve.

They all came from the Salinas Valley Democrats. President Ed Weinstein said they coordinated this volunteer day after President Barack Obama put out the call to serve. "We called all the people we've been dealing with and we hustled up a whole vanload of food basically. I'm going out to get more food now," he said. The group will provide breakfast and lunch at Dorothy's Kitchen.

It was just one of dozens of community service events that took place Monday on the Central Coast. In Santa Cruz County, Real Estate Broker Terry Ballyntyne helped organize a blanket and warm clothing drive. "I was, buying these bins to distribute to the fire station and I thought, well how did this happen?" said Ballyntyne, "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."

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's call to action dramatically raised awareness about the day's purpose. Jonathan Williams 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. When this year's numbers are tallied, he expects that number will double. "We anticipate the number of volunteers, across the country, will be in the millions," he said. The goal of the King Day of Service is to spark the spirit of volunteerism year-round.

At Dorothy's Place, Dunlap hopes these new helpers will come back. She called volunteers essential to keeping this soup kitchen and shelter open, especially in these economic times when demand is up and donations are down. "I am what's known is a stipend volunteer and my position was eliminated due to budget cuts, so I'm going to be leaving by the end of February, which means there's more room for volunteers to step in a help out. We could always use a few extra hands, so if you have any free time come down to Dorothy's, I'm sure they can put you to work," said Dunlap.