Not too bad for the first year.
That's how Gloucester Township Council Vice President Orlando Mercado assessed the town's first-ever Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
"I'm overwhelmed by the amount of volunteers we had today," Mercado said around 11 a.m. Monday at Camden County Animal Shelter, one of eight locations where volunteers worked for a few hours.
Mercado pitched the idea for a communitywide Day of Service to mark King's official birthday celebration to Mayor David Mayer just two-and-a-half weeks ago, and announced it during the township's annual reorganization meeting on Jan. 2.
He thought they'd get 50 or so volunteers for five projects. They got 116, and had to add three projects to accommodate the numbers.
"I'm surprised ... and elated," Mercado said.
Still, Mercado and Mayer each expect more volunteers for next year's Day of Service.
"When we meet again next year, we are going to make this program even larger," the mayor said.
Not all of Monday's 116 volunteers call Gloucester Township home.
Dawn McBean, of Gloucester City, said it was her church that brought her and her daugher, Vivica, out for the township's Day of Service.
About 20 of the volunteers hailed from Mount Zion United Methodist Church of Lawnside, where a top Gloucester Township educator worships.
"I invited my church family to come out to volunteer here in Gloucester Township," said Angela Rose-Bounds, principal at James W. Lilley Elementary School and parent coordinator at the Lawnside church. "We like to have an activity where we can show the kids the importance of service."
Gloucester Township's Day of Service volunteers:
- Helped make a total of 350 peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the Cathedral Kitchen in Camden
- Drew and decorated cards for military men and women who are serving overseas
- Drew and decorated cards for local firefighters
- Ran a Zumba class at Senior Campus I at Lakeland
- Put together boxes of food for the Living Word Bible Fellowship's Church Street food pantry
- Cleaned up and organized food at the Camden County Animal Shelter at Lakeland
- Sorted through and organized shoes for the Soles4Souls donation program
- Cleaned tables and chairs at the Gloucester Township Recreation Department Preschool at the Recreation Center
I participated in the volunteer project at the animal shelter. About 15 of us combined to put donated food into containers, sweep and rake outdoor pens, and break down unused animal carriers and cages.
Kimberly Tibbens brought out her 6-year-old grandson, Elijah Fontaine, after reading about the township's Day of Service projects on Gloucester Township Patch.
"I just wanted him to get a sense of what service to the community is all about and what Martin Luther King's legacy is," she said.
Andrew Gershman, director of operations at Camden County Animal Shelter, appreciated the helping hands, and encouraged the volunteers to come back to help out and to let others know about the 90 dogs and 200 cats that routinely call the shelter their temporary home.
"Honestly, people coming out here when they have a day off and could be at home, and to brave the cold, it shows how much the community cares about the animals and the shelter," he said. "It's uplifting and inspiring."
To volunteer at or to inquire about adopting a pet from the animal shelter, call 856-401-1300.
Mercado thanked Acme of Runnemede for donating a $50 gift card for supplies used for the Day of Service and credited Sandy Kirkwood, who is eight months pregnant, for leading the Zumba class at Senior Campus I.