Sandra Reyes could have spent her Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day among the throngs gathered for the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. on Monday.
Instead, she gave up her ticket to spend the frigid holiday with more than two dozen volunteers cleaning a fledgling community garden in Morrisania.
“This will be a garden for the community and for our soup kitchen,” said Reyes, who runs the Caldwell Temple Soup Kitchen. “Martin Luther King talked about unity and working together to achieve a goal in peace and harmony. This is why we are here.”
The volunteer effort was part of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger’s Annual MLK Serve-a-Thon. About 400 volunteers participated in 27 events over the long holiday weekend.
The Caldwell Temple Soup Kitchen, 1288 Rev. James A Polite Ave., provides more than 175 meals weekly, as well as HIV and blood pressure screening and consultation, SNAP and WIC screenings, nutrition classes, parenting workshops and more.
On Monday, volunteers gathered to reclaim the community garden down the block that lay dormant for three years after the partial collapse of a neighboring building.
Caldwell Temple staffers plan to plant fruit, vegetables and flowers in the coming months, and are setting up a core group of volunteers to cultivate the garden throughout the year.
The hope also is to use the space for community events including block parties, church services and a winter wonderland during Christmas.
Cordelia Gilford started taking care of the garden in 1979 when it was a vacant, garbage strewn lot.
She smiled Monday morning as she watched volunteers rake leaves, clear away branches and turn the soil.
“I love this,” she said. “It really feels like the community coming together. It makes me so happy.”
Volunteer Carlos Melendez, 65, of Bedford Park, spent most of the morning raking.
“I do a lot of volunteer work. I like it,” he said. “It makes you feel good to do something for somebody else.”
For 15-year old Rick Rodriguez, the garden holds special meaning. He’s been coming to this space with his family since he was four years old.
“It’s amazing to see so many people out here doing this,” he smiled. “This garden has been shut for so long and we haven’t been able to sit here and relax and plant things like we did before. This is amazing.”
“At the end of the day, this is what keeps society afloat – people helping each other,” added Ti-Me Gadsden, 24, of Brooklyn. “It’s just what people should do. I’d be out here even if it wasn’t Martin Luther King Day.”