Youth from St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, and St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, work in the Open Door food pantry in Freehold for the Jan. 20 MLK Day of Service. At right is Mary Grace Enge from St. Thomas More Parish.  Jennifer Mauro photo
Youth from St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, and St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, work in the Open Door food pantry in Freehold for the Jan. 20 MLK Day of Service. At right is Mary Grace Enge from St. Thomas More Parish. Jennifer Mauro photo
Mary Grace, Nicholas and Christopher Enge all agreed on one important point during the Jan. 20 Martin Luther King Day Jr. Day of Service – making a change in the world is important to them, no matter how big or small.

“Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. just didn’t just keep to themselves, they gave back to others and expressed what they thought was right no matter what anyone else thought, and they made a better change for the world,” said Mary Grace Enge, who with her siblings, took part in the MLK Day of Service held at St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.

“Both Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to give back to the community, and us giving back to the homeless community today is kind of like us fulfilling what they wanted to do,” Christopher Enge added.

Photo Gallery: MLK Day of Service, St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral

The teens from Manalapans’ St. Thomas More Parish were among more than 30 youth from different faith communities, including St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold, who came together to take part in community service projects. The day began with teens and adults forming an assembly line to fill “blessing bags” with personal care items for those in need.

“Nobody deserves to be on the street and forgot about,” said Kevin Garrison, founder of the nonprofit Blessing Bag Brigade, which provides outreach to the homeless. “When you see the smile on someone’s face who you’ve helped, it touches you, it changes you.”

The Blessing Bag Brigade provided some of the donations for the blessing bags along with the congregations from the Freehold Clergy Association, of which St. Robert Bellarmine is a part. The association consists of different houses of worship in and around Freehold that work together for religious tolerance and cooperation.

In all, 250 blessing bags were made.

“You will remember helping someone who couldn’t help themselves,” Garrison said, encouraging the teens to step out of their comfort zones as they visited numerous worksites that day.

Community Servers

After packing the blessing bags, the teens split into groups to visit various organizations. Among those visited were the Mattison Crossing retirement/assisted-living home, CentraState Medical Center, Wedgwood Gardens Care Center, Open Door food pantry, and Emergency Housing and Advocacy Program (EHAP), among others.

At Open Door, teens sorted food products and coats and learned about the food pantry’s mission. A separate group at EHAP assembled bags of food items like protein-rich tuna, peanuts and crackers and office supplies like notebooks and pens for homeless people to carry in knapsacks.

“The homeless don’t have filing cabinets,” EHAP staff said, explaining the importance of paper and pens to record important dates.

At the food pantry, the teens heard how nothing expired or moldy is accepted; how clients can pick the items they want, and how sometimes, there are themed meals given out, such as all the items need for a pizza or taco night.

“It’s all about treating people with dignity and respect,” said Geralyn Fraggetta-Drury, Open Door director.

Of the teens’ help, she said, “All these things you did today made a difference. You changed lives today, person by person.”

Agreeing on Mission

Reflecting on the day’s service projects, 11th-grader Olivia Juliano, a member of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, said, “We are so lucky. On a regular day, we may not think about homelessness. I see what an impact it [social services] has on their lives.”

Fellow parishioners Peter Greco, a seventh-grader, and A.J. Damito, who is in the 11th grade, agreed. All three said Martin Luther King Jr. Day was the perfect day to help their community. They also agreed that, “It takes courage to ask for help, whether you have a job or not.”

Arnav Khode, and 11th-grader from the Sri Guruvaayoorappan Temple in Marlboro, said he was happy to take part in the day’s service project. “I wanted to give back by brightening someone’s day.”

Amrik Krishnakumar, a ninth-grader who attends First Baptist Church in Freehold, said he is aware of homelessness on the global level as well as in his back yard. “I can see hunger and homelessness right here in Monmouth County.”

All involved said having an inter-religious community service event fell in line with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mission of inclusion.

“Social justice is integral to all of our faiths,” said Jen Schlameuss Perry, St. Robert Bellarmine pastoral associate and member of the Freehold Clergy Association.

Added Pastor Will Wilson of First United Methodist Church of Freehold, “Part of remembering Dr. King is recalling how he brought people of all different backgrounds together for social justice.”