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COVID-19 pandemic makes MLK Day of Service a virtual event for many, others go out to improve community

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many events for Martin Luther King Day went virtual. But some found ways to go out to better their community through service.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a champion of faith, hope and dared to dream, and the federal holiday that bears his name celebrates that legacy. 

In 1994, AmeriCorps, the federal volunteer agency, was charged with making sure MLK Day is a day on and not a day off. Since 1995, the agency used MLK Day as a day to improve communities. 

In 2021, it has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. A spokesperson at United Way Northeast Florida said many of the volunteer efforts went virtual.

"I'm just a regular person who cares," said James Cook.

Cook, 34, decided to use his  'day on' to clean up the blight around the city.

"I did not want to sit around and say, 'I am for a community,' and not try to make the community look better," Cook said.

Cook, a member of the Duval Soil and Water Conservation District, used social media to recruit volunteers who are eager to do for others. 

"I reached out to Clay County and to St. Johns County and bring them in," Cook said. 

Where is the blight? Cook said it is everywhere, especially in the urban core area, where places have become unsightly illegal dump sites.

"I have been around District 1, District 7, District 8, District 9, District 10, District 5, District 14," Cook explained, "and this is what I see."

Cook was working this MLK day, his day of service was Saturday. He wants to be a good steward of the environment.

"We need our communities to look better," said Cook.

He said the all volunteer clean up usually takes about two hours and is usually on a Saturday because it is most convenient for everyone.

 It is a day of service he and his partners plan to continue doing.

"Everyday is a day you can get out and clean up it doesn't have to be a holiday," said Cook. "You have a chance to make your community look better."

Feeding Northeast Florida also conducted a day of service. The non-profit held two mobile food distributions. One was at Mount Ararat Baptist Church, where Dr. King spoke in 1961 during his visit to Jacksonville.

The need for volunteers is at an all time high, as the effects of the pandemic is being felt across the First Coast. Feeding America estimates that four in 10 individuals are using food banks resources for the first time.

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