Saint Leo University students, faculty, and staff answered a question once posed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "What are you doing for others?" on Monday, the observance of the late civil rights leader's birthday. The university held its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on January 18 and performed volunteer acts on and off campus.

"We're focusing on making it a 'day on' rather than a 'day off,'" said Brandee Greaves, assistant director of Greek Life and Community Engagement. "We're trying to exemplify that with real world experiences for our community."

There were no classes on Monday so students and faculty could participate, and all staff members also had the opportunity to volunteer. They could choose from university-organized events or volunteer at an organization of their own choice.

With masks firmly in place and socially distancing enforced, Saint Leo University volunteers went to work off campus, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity of East and Central Pasco in Dade City and Gulfside Hospice Thrift Shoppe in Zephyrhills. On Tuesday, volunteers will participate in a virtual "read-in" for students at St. Anthony Catholic School in San Antonio.

On campus, students, faculty, and staff had multiple opportunities to engage in charitable and beautification efforts.

Room 111 of the Student Activities Building was filled with the smell of peanut butter as volunteers spread it and jelly to make sandwiches for PB&J of Tampa Bay. Saint Leo's volunteers were making 100 to 150 meal packages that they distributed to Someone Cares Tampa Bay in Clearwater. "I think every day should be a service day," Maria Sanchez, a freshman business major said. "Help everyone in every way you can."

"We're honoring MLK, but it also is the mission of Saint Leo," said Audrey Koke, serials, resources and instructional services librarian. "To help others," chimed in Liz Castro, enrollment counselor, as she made PB&J sandwiches.

Katie Huettel, who graduated in December with a degree in theatre, led volunteers in crocheting "plarn," creating mats for the homeless. Volunteers busied themselves tying plastic bags and scraps of plastic together to create the plarn or yarn made of plastic, which they used to crochet with large needles or their fingers. 

"This is something a little different," said Regina Plummer of the Learning Design Department, about the volunteer experience. "This was the first time I got to do something on campus," noting she usually volunteers elsewhere.

Saint Leo's campus also benefited from the volunteer work with students cleaning the Greek organization benches, and weeding and planting in the Peaceful Reflections Garden near Saint Edward Hall and medians in the parking lot by the U.S. Post Office. 

Geossica Madden from Jamaica, just came to campus for the Spring 2021 Semester. "I wanted to get involved right away," the freshman marketing major said. 

Sophomore Amaya Gomez, who is president of the Social Work Club, worked in the Peaceful Reflections Garden. "I really like this garden; it's really important to me," she said, as she weeded and cleaned.

The university also accepted donations of personal care items and boxed, nonperishable food, which will be donated to Restored Hope, a nonprofit ministry in Dade City, which aids the homeless and those on the verge of homelessness.

Saint Leo also is celebrating Martin Luther King Appreciation Week with many events, and members of the community recorded a video to honor King's legacy. View it here:

Dr. Ebony Perez, chair of Saint Leo's undergraduate social work program, also spoke with Spirit FM, the radio station of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, about helping people find the way forward as they celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. She discussed with John Morris, station manager, ways in which Americans can make positive change. Listen at Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King with Dr. Ebony Perez.