LIVINGSTON, NJ — Hundreds of volunteers joined the Livingston Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (LCDI) at the Livingston Senior and Community Center on Monday for an afternoon full of service projects in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.

Assisting in projects like assembling hygiene kits for those in need and collecting donations of coats, warm clothing, non-perishable food items, birthday party supplies and gifts, and prom and special-occasion dresses for distribution to various charitable organizations helped volunteers view the holiday as a “day on” rather than a “day off.” In fact, LCDI chair Susan Berkenbush said that the committee flew through its projects this year thanks to the high volume of participants and encouraged residents to recommend more project ideas to include at next year’s MLK Day of Service.

“Livingston’s population is wonderfully diverse across the dimensions of race, culture, ethnicity, religion, age, ability, sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Berkenbush. “A key goal of the LCDI is to contribute in a meaningful way to Livingston’s social health by helping create a sense of belonging for everyone who lives here. To do that, we must work together to cultivate mutual respect, build trust and strengthen and unify our community."

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On behalf of the LCDI, Berkenbush thanked the volunteers as well as the members of both the township council and board of education, who she said have become strong supporters of the committee over the past few years.

Mayor Ed Meinhardt, who also serves as the council liaison to the LCDI, thanked the members of the committee for their dedicated work not only on Monday, but throughout the entire year as well. As he addressed the crowd, Meinhardt spoke about the “tumultuous and heated process” of declaring Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday, which was proposed in the late 70s and adopted in 1983.

“It is difficult for us today to conceive how controversial this process was, given the near-universal admiration and respect afforded to Dr. King’s life, work and memory—but we should not be surprised,” said Meinhardt, who added that when Dr. King became a national figure, discrimination was still prominent in many American lives. “Today, while not perfect, we are better, and of course, much of that has to do with Dr. King himself.”

Honoring Dr. King’s memory with this day of volunteerism is something that Dr. King would have approved of, according to Meinhardt.

“Here in Livingston, this is how we spend our day: we gather coats for those who are cold, we provide food for those who are hungry, and we distribute innumerable goods to the many charities in our community,” said Meinhardt. “Let us not think this is something that we do one day each year in our community. It is the opposite—We gather on this day of service to honor Dr. King’s memory, yes, but also, this is a day that serves as a reminder that we as Americans should honor his memory every day by recognizing our common humanity of being of service to one another 365 days a year.”

Meinhardt said he hopes Monday’s efforts conveyed “both the honor in which we hold [Dr. King’s] memory and our insistence that in the Township of Livingston, service to others always be among our highest values.”

Billy Fine, recently retired LCDI co-chair and an 11-year member of the committee, said he hopes that the legacy the group has worked toward will be instilled in the younger volunteers who participated on Monday.

“What you did [today] was you served our community and the surrounding communities of Livingston to show what we can do together as one group,” said Fine. “If you look around, there are people you don’t know and people you do, and yet we all built something here today. The service projects that we did will serve many different people in many wonderful ways, and I for one am truly grateful for all of your work.”

Among the volunteers on Monday were Livingston’s 5th-grade junior Girl Scout Troop 20290, Boy Scout Troop 16, Livingston CHOW/Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Livingston Chinese Association, Livingston Lions Club, the Livingston Police Department, the Livingston Robotics Club and many more.

Fine said that Monday’s event displayed the continued growth of the LCDI and that he looks forward to seeing the event improve with each year.

“Service is what really embodies Livingston,” he said. “We’re a community that stands up, we stand together and we do what we can to make the world a better place.”

In his invocation, Rev. Dan Martian of the Presbyterian Church of Livingston asked those present to remember kindness, to take action when a wrong needs to be righted, to “speak the truth of righteousness amid diverse opinions” and to “listen not only with our ears and minds, but with our hearts” in order to become a compassionate people.

Martian concluded the annual event by leading the group in singing “We Shall Overcome.”