OLYMPIA - The volunteers at the First Christian Church of Olympia formed a conga line of giving.
About 30 children and adults, organized by service organization AmeriCorps, snaked in a line around tables, filling care packages with essentials such as toothpaste, lip balm, towels and cold-weather hats and scarves for homeless students throughout the region.
Cole Lester, 9, of Tumwater stuffed a huge teddy bear into one bag he made for a homeless boy.
"He's going to really like it," he said.
Cole didn't mind that he and his family were spending the day off of school stuffing care packages rather than hanging out at home.
"I feel like I'm being very helpful," he said. "All the people in need, the boys and girls and parents, they might still be homeless, but ... they're going to have toothpaste, toothbrushes and washcloths."
The event was one of about half a dozen AmeriCorps projects throughout South Sound that used the Martin Luther King holiday as a day of service. The 20 Thurston County-based AmeriCorps Youth In Service members recruit and organize volunteers throughout the community for a variety of community activities. They also raise money to put on the events, said Missy Gresen, the local Youth In Service team coordinator.
"The motto of AmeriCorps is 'It's a day on, not a day off,' " said Jennifer Yonge, an AmeriCorps member and organizer of the care package event.
AmeriCorps Youth In Service groups around the country hold similar events, Gresen said. AmeriCorps is a federally funded organization that places young people in schools and organizations and nonprofit groups that aid the community.
South Sound projects included building gardening facilities for Left Foot Organic Farm, the Symbols of Justice art project, and the Experiencing Equality Day, which provided children with activities to teach them about equality and making good choices.
Ricca Downes, 14. a Black Hills High School ninth-grader, taught students about avoiding tobacco at Experiencing Equality, which was co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
Ricca didn't mind that she spent her holiday working with younger students.
"I looked at it as 'I was probably not going to do anything, anyway,' " she said. "I was actually looking forward to it."
"I guess that Martin Luther King and his ideas are important to me and my family," said Jodi Boe, a Washington Middle School teacher who was spending the day off at the care package event. Boe brought her first-grade daughter, Maya, and a few of Maya's friends.
"We wanted to have something to do on Martin Luther King Day, and not just have it be a day off school," Boe said. The packages will be "for kids, so this seemed like a good one for kids to come to."
Venice Buhain covers education for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-5445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you need shelter
There are options for those who need shelter when the weather gets very cold.
n The Salvation Army, 808 Fifth Ave. S.W., Olympia, opens its shelter to everyone until it is full on nights that dip below freezing. Women and children can reserve a spot by calling 360-352-8596. Men are allowed in on a first-come, first-served basis. The Salvation Army normally limits the amount of time that someone can spend at the shelter.
n The Emergency Shelter Network, 360-528-8999, is a group of South Sound churches that provide shelter on freezing nights. People who need shelter can call between 7 and 9 p.m. and a volunteer will provide additional instructions.
n Bread & Roses, a homeless advocacy group, also can help people find assistance; call 360-754-4588.