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Dunwoody takes on MLK Day of Service

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Georgia Tech students dig a hole to plant a tree at the Dunwoody Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Jan. 16 at Brook Run Park.

DUNWOODY, Ga. — Volunteers turned out in droves under chilly conditions for the seventh annual Dunwoody Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Jan. 16.

The day of service was put on by the city in partnership with the Dunwoody-Atlanta Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, an organization focused on leadership development, volunteer service and civic duty for African American children.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, volunteers registered to help with projects across Dunwoody. The city also hosts a “Souper Bowl of Caring” through December and January which pledges to collect 55,000 pounds of food for the Community Assistance Center and Malachi’s Storehouse.

At 9 a.m., residents and visitors alike came to Brook Run Park to participate in various service activities, including tree planting, daffodil planting, community garden cleanup and a blood drive. Morning temperatures dipped into the 30s, but as volunteers dug into the dirt, the day got warmer.

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Volunteers plant daffodils along the road for the Daffodil Project at the Dunwoody Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Jan. 16 at Brook Run Park.

Dunwoody Parks and Recreation partnered with Atlanta-based organization the Daffodil Project to plant 5,400 daffodil bulbs across the park. The parks and recreation staff prepared the area by digging the holes and setting up baskets of bulbs.

About 60 people arrived to plant the daffodils.

“Look how little this bulb is!” one young volunteer announced as she held up a bulb. “It’ll grow a tiny daffodil.”

Families, friends and people from across Georgia gardened as part of The Daffodil Project’s goal to plant 1.5 million daffodils around the world.

A symbol for the ages

The daffodils symbolize the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust. The project uses the flowers as a “living Holocaust memorial” and foster Holocaust education and awareness.

Daffodil Project founder and President Andrea Videlefsky said the flowers resemble the stars Jewish people were forced to wear in the concentration camps. They also have a symbolic meaning.

“Daffodils are very resilient,” Videlefsky said. “The beauty is they come back and reminds us.”

So far, the organization has planted 860,000 daffodils in 464 locations.

The organization bases its education on Holocaust history, but board member Roberta Lynn sees the knowledge as vital for the present.

“We have to show people how to recognize subversive behavior now and how to stop it now,” Lynn said.

In 2016, The Daffodil Project planted over 2,000 flowers at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. For the past four years, the organization has worked with Dunwoody on Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service projects.

To Videlefsky, the partnership is natural. She quoted Martin Luther King Jr. as an explanation.

“In the words of MLK, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Videlefsky said.

Down the road, volunteers at the Brook Run Community Garden cleaned up and rebuilt the over 100 garden beds. The beds are split, with some used by garden members and others dedicated to growing food for Malachi’s Storehouse, a local foodbank.

Most of the crops were killed off in the bitter cold temperatures in late December, so volunteers took on the task of replanting winter vegetables in the charitable garden beds.

Last year, the garden donated about 2,032 pounds of produce to the Malachi’s Storehouse.

Cindy McGill, chairwoman for the community garden, said produce helps add variety for the foodbank.

“They have a lot of donations, but not much in the way of fresh produce,” McGill said.

Volunteers spent the day planting frost-resistant plants like Bok choy in the food pantry beds. They also rebuilt nine of the beds and refilled 10 more with fresh soil.

“We’re gardeners, but we also enjoy giving back to the community,” McGill said.

The community also gathered to plant 100 trees near the multi-use fields at Brook Run Park. Trees Atlanta, a nonprofit community group dedicated to improving Atlanta’s urban forest, partnered with the city to take on the task.

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Volunteers fill cans to water freshly planted crops at the Dunwoody Community Garden for the Dunwoody Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Jan. 16 at Brook Run Park.

Business pitches in

Jennifer Higgins brought out nine of her coworkers for a corporate volunteer day.

Higgins works for Jabian Consulting, a business consulting firm in Sandy Springs. She said the company gives employees paid volunteer days every year and groups split off to volunteer across the area.

“We love Trees Atlanta and we love trees,” Higgins said.

Higgins volunteered with Dunwoody the year before, but with a much smaller group. This year, her group planted five trees.

“Not bad for just a Monday morning,” Higgins said.

Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch moved between the different events at Brook Run Park, chatting with volunteers and watching the community work.

“This is just awesome,” Deutsch said. “I’m so grateful to Jack and Jill of Dunwoody-Atlanta because it was their idea, and they wanted a day of service.”

The mayor told some of the children planting trees that the plants would grow with them. She said the plants will make a long-term difference for the park.

“It’s going to have a multigenerational impact,” Deutsch said.

Deutsch is happy with the turnout, and said the day of service gave people a “day on” instead of a day off.

“A day off is great, but this is a reminder of why you get the day off,” Deutsch said.

Spruill Center work

Not all the volunteer work was outdoors. At Spruill Center for the Arts on Chamblee Dunwoody Road, a small team of volunteers spent the day painting, stapling sketchbooks and preparing the center for the new year.

The arts center hosts community programs throughout the year, including a summer camp for young artists.

Grace Cox, who heads Youth Programs and Community Outreach, said a lot of the volunteer work was dedicated to preparing for the summer camp.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was the first major volunteering day the center hosted in the past year. Cox said the center has been without a volunteer program since she started the job last March.

“This is supposed to introduce people to volunteering again,” Cox said.

When she found out Dunwoody was hosting a day of service, she quickly added Spruill to the list of volunteer opportunities.

“It seemed like too good of an opportunity,” Cox said.

The volunteers helped clean and paint classrooms, a job that typically falls on Cox. The center has no cleaning staff.

People also helped prepare large canvases with white paint and staple together sketchbooks for the 2023 summer camp. The team was small, but Cox said the enthusiasm was big.

“We had a huge response, but we don’t have a volunteer coordinator,” Cox said.

The center was unable to respond to all of the people interested in volunteering, but Cox said there was still a good turnout.

“I hope this can restart volunteers here,” Cox said.

Reach Delaney Tarr at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @delaneytarr.