Mid-Atlantic Mormons organize unprecedented 'Day to Serve'

By Laurie SnowTurner

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Oct. 14 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Virginia Delegate Tom Rust (center, holding trimmers) poses with a group of missionaries from Oakton Virginia Stake.

Laurie Snow Turner

What a day. An inspiring, monumental "Day to Serve," that is.

That was the sentiment of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, three governors, a mayor and thousands of volunteers Saturday, Sept. 29, when residents of Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and the District of Columbia came together to perform nearly 750 service projects. Together, they served more than 14,000 people and collected more than 600,000 pounds of food to feed the hungry.

Nearly 200 projects focused on hunger, 350 focused on improving the environment and 310 were "Adopt a Road" clean-up projects. Many parks, creeks, beaches and highways were cleaned and record amounts of debris were collected, according to Anne Golightly, director of public affairs for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area of the LDS Church.

Project recipients were from every corner of this broad region of the country and included individuals, group homes, a boat dock, a food kitchen, a cemetery, a beach, a food bank and more. Projects ranged from neighborhood food drives to races, soccer games, a concert, grocery store food collection sites, a fair and a carnival.

From 'Helping Hands' to a 'Day to Serve'

This project started out as an LDS Helping Hands project idea from Elder Jack Gerard, an Area Seventy for the LDS Church from McLean, Va. He spearheaded a successful “Day to Serve” effort in the Commonwealth of Virginia last year and wondered whether neighboring states and the District of Columbia would like to participate this year.

Elder Gerard organized a group of public affairs specialists and brought in Elder Chris Lansing, an Area Seventy in the southern Virginia and West Virginia area. They focused on one goal: to bring together three governors and a mayor and encourage them to issue official proclamations declaring Sept. 29, as a regional Day to Serve, encouraging their combined residents of 16 million people to join members of the LDS Church and dedicate one day to serving their communities.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, West Virginia Gov. Ear Ray Tomblin, and Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent C. Gray eagerly accepted the challenge and assigned high-level staff members to join the LDS organizing committee to “feed the hungry, empower the soul and heal the planet.”

“The governors and the mayor were thrilled to be part of this project. They jumped on board quickly, took strong leadership roles, and this project just took off. We may have started the ball rolling, but we quickly became a small spoke in a large, fast moving wheel," Elder Gerard said. "To my knowledge, this is the first project of this magnitude that has brought together such a diverse group of people for something so worthwhile. And it’s no small thing that, in today’s kind of political climate, we brought together people of both parties and all different religions for one worthy goal: to serve others as Jesus Christ did.”

“There’s precious little agreement on too many policy issues in Washington and state capitals, but we can all agree that the fight against hunger is an important one," said Gov. McDonnell. "I thank the LDS Church for bringing together these regional partners to make a real difference on the issue of hunger.”

“Maryland Governor O’Malley’s personal interest in 'Day to Serve' set a high bar for all of the participants,” Elder Gerard said. “We all had to work extraordinarily hard to keep up with him. He mobilized all the faith groups in Maryland very quickly, reached out to the Redskins football team and really led the charge for us.”

O'Malley even posted a video on YouTube of him strumming his banjo and singing “This Land is Your Land” to encourage participation in local Day to Serve projects.

Focusing on hunger

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