A massive service spree started on Sept. 11 when first lady of the Commonwealth of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe endorsed the Day to Serve, an annual service initiative that involves all the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.
“We stand here, united and committed, to serve our great nation and our commonwealth,” she said as she endorsed Day to Serve and thanked the 500 assembled volunteers for "rolling up their sleeves and setting an example of service for all Virginians."
From Sept. 11-28, tens of thousands of volunteers from across Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia will be participating in hundreds of service events to celebrate the spirit of service that was evident after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe also addressed the group of volunteers assembled for the Virginia Volunteerism Conference. “It matters that you volunteer. It matters that you put your hand out there to help that person up that rung of the ladder. It’s the right thing to do.”
After speaking to the group of enthusiastic volunteers, the McAuliffes went to Congregations Around Richmond Involved to Assure Shelter or CARITAS, a local homeless shelter, to help build furniture along with many other volunteers. This was the beginning of what is a type of service spree happening across the region as part of Day to Serve, which started in Virginia as a Mormon Helping Hands project in 2011.
“I hope all our citizens, faith groups, businesses and community organizations will support and participate in efforts to collect food, plant trees and clean up neighborhoods and parks,” Gov. McAuliffe said.
Day to Serve began on a large scale in 2012 as a collaboration of the governors of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the mayor of Washington, D.C., to set aside political differences and work together to feed the hungry and improve their communities. They invited all faith groups and communities to meet the needs in their own backyards.
“The governors and Mayor Gray have been enthusiastic, outstanding leaders in this unprecedented regional event. They are helping our diverse communities build bridges of understanding and leading the way in service and volunteerism by their examples," said Elder Jack N. Gerard, an Area Seventy, who spearheaded this initiative. "It's inspiring to see so many people putting aside their political and religious differences and working together to accomplish so much good in the world. This united effort is phenomenal. Thorough this annual event, our members and church leaders are developing lasting friendships that benefit everyone involved."
In Herndon, Virginia, Mormons are working with members of the local Muslim and Catholic congregations to serve the senior citizens in their community.
"Before DTS, we didn't even know our neighbors," Joshua Salaam, youth director for the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, said at a Herndon Town Council meeting. "Now, we are working with them to serve and strengthen our community. It is definitely achieving its purpose of bringing people together."
Centreville Virginia Stake President Jon E. Dionne said, "DTS highlights the many good things going on around us. These things don't always make the nightly news, but they're happening. People of faith from all backgrounds are coming together for good and to serve."
At George Mason University, the LDS Church members are partnering with several groups, including the Catholic and Lutheran ministries.
Kevin Stoy, Living Learning Community coordinator of the Honors College at George Mason University, said, "The university is excited to partner with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with our Catholic campus ministry, Lord of Life Lutheran Church and others in the Fairfax County area for Day to Serve. It's an opportunity for our students to get a different kind of education — one that happens off campus with others in the community for the greater good. We look forward to partnering with the LDS Church for many years to come."
For the third consecutive year, the LDS Humanitarian Services will be delivering and donating thousands of pounds of food to local food banks as part of the DTS initiative. One of the recipients is Capital Area Food Bank, which is the largest food bank in the area and the hub of food sourcing, food distribution and nutrition in the Washington, D.C., metro area for about 700,000 people who are at risk of hunger.
“DTS has become a crucial way to engage the community at large during Hunger Action Month in September," said Christel Hair, senior director of Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement at Capital Area Food Bank. "The LDS community has created a large and growing network of community-minded interfaith, government and other special community leaders who have increased their giving year after year in support of domestic hunger relief efforts and CAFB programs.”
She added, “Truckloads of healthy, nutritious food from DTS food drives benefit those most vulnerable — children, seniors and families. We applaud the work and mission of Day to Serve and encourage everyone to be part of this unique annual event that unites people of all faiths, religions and cultures.”
For more information and to see the variety of events being planned, please visit daytoserve.org.
Laurie Snow Turner is an LDS public affairs director in the Washington, D.C., area. She blogs at lauriesnowturner.com.