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USDA Employees Commemorate Dr. King’s Legacy of Service

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness . . .We all have the drum major instinct.”

Excerpt from The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, given on February 4, 1968.

USDA employees came together for an inspirational ceremony last week to commemorate today’s day of remembrance and service for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Secretary Vilsack declared the first ever USDA Day of Service and challenged all employees to volunteer in their communities.  Secretary Vilsack reminded the audience of Dr. King’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and the importance of keeping his legacy of service alive. He challenged everyone to make service a part of their everyday lives.

Keynote remarks were provided by Dr. William R. Harvey, President of Hampton University.  Dr. Alma Hobbs, Departmental Management and Max Finberg, Director of USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships recognized twelve USDA employees from around the country for their outstanding volunteer service with MLK Drum Majors for Service Awards, a recognition given to volunteers who perform extraordinary everyday acts of service with reliability and commitment, but who seldom receive recognition.

Afterwards, USDA employees in the Washington, DC metro area heeded the call from Secretary Vilsack by volunteering at area charities.  Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and a team of 18 employees were joined by the Corporation for National Service’s Director of Public Engagement and the Vice-Chair of the Arlington County Board at the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) where they helped bag fresh produce and oatmeal for distribution to AFAC clients. AFAC serves 1,497 clients on a weekly basis.  Their Plot Against Hunger program works with local gardeners and farmers, schools, faith-based and community organizations to increase their client’s access to fresh produce.

Dr. Kathleen Merrigan (left), Deputy Secretary and Max Finberg (right), Director, Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships fill mesh bags with tomatoes at the Arlington Food Assistance Center in Arlington, Virginia, Thursday, January 12, 2012. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack designated January 12 as the United States Department of Agriculture’s Martin Luther King Day of Service to recognize Dr. King’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. The volunteer service at the Arlington Food Assistance Center addresses hunger in the Latino community and how the United States Department of Agriculture is working via today’s day of service, but also through larger efforts to increase participation in our nutrition assistance programs. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols

Dr. Kathleen Merrigan (left), Deputy Secretary and Max Finberg (right), Director, Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships fill mesh bags with tomatoes at the Arlington Food Assistance Center in Arlington, Virginia, Thursday, January 12, 2012. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols

Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsanger and Assistant Secretary for Departmental Management Pearlie Reed joined a team of 22 volunteers at the DC Central Kitchen, where they helped prep for the next day’s meal.  Colleagues at the Food and Nutrition Service, led by FNS Administrator Audrey Rowe, served the Food for Others, and another 25 employees from the Research, Economics, and Education Division joined the Anacostia Watershed Society, where they helped with trash clean up and invasive plan removal.  Food Safety and Inspection Service employees headed to the St. Camillus Food Pantry and others to Capitol Area Food Bank.

From left: Katie Yockam, Rural Development; Leslie Harvey, Departmental Management; Dr. Alma Hobbs, Associate Assistant Secretary for Administration; Pearlie Reed, Assistant Secretary for Administration; and William Milton Jr., Deputy Director, Office of Human Resource Management help prepare the evening meal at the D.C. Central Kitchen during USDA’s National Service Day on January 12, 2012.  NSD honors Dr. Martin Luther Kings’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. The D.C. Central Kitchen turns leftover food into millions of meals for thousands of at-risk individuals while offering nationally recognized culinary job training to once homeless and hungry adults.  USDA Photo by Tom Witham.

From left: Katie Yockam, Rural Development; Leslie Harvey, Departmental Management; Dr. Alma Hobbs, Associate Assistant Secretary for Administration; Pearlie Reed, Assistant Secretary for Administration; and William Milton Jr., Deputy Director, Office of Human Resource Management help prepare the evening meal at the D.C. Central Kitchen during USDA’s National Service Day on January 12, 2012. USDA Photo by Tom Witham.

Back at USDA Headquarters, about 25 Executive Master Gardeners and invited co-workers attended the MLK Day of Service in the People’s Garden, where 90 pounds of beets and giant turnips were harvested and donated soon after to DC Central Kitchen. They also composted plant debris, weeded and sowed arugula and collards for future harvests.

We heard from USDA offices throughout the country how their serve proved to be a valuable team building activity.  Secretary Vilsack’s words that, “today reminds us that there are many opportunities to volunteer throughout the year” will continue to resonate among us.

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