Obama Foundation volunteerism on MLK Day makes comeback after COVID hiatus

Music pumped through the South Side YMCA gym as members of the community got to work preparing meals, making birthday cards for seniors, planting seeds and packaging self-care kits for people in need.

SHARE Obama Foundation volunteerism on MLK Day makes comeback after COVID hiatus
Volunteers Tasha (from left), Aaliya and Brailyn prepare tomato seed starters during a day of giving event by the Obama Foundation and the Honeycomb Project in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Southside YMCA on Monday.

Volunteers Tasha (from left), Aaliya and Brailyn prepare tomato seed starters during a day of giving event by the Obama Foundation and the Honeycomb Project in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Southside YMCA on Monday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

It may have been cold and drizzly outside Monday, but it was warm and colorful inside the South Side YMCA, where dozens of volunteers came together for a day of service on the holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Music pumped through the gym as members of the community got to work preparing meals, making birthday cards for seniors, planting seeds and packaging self-care kits for people in need.

It’s an event that made a comeback Monday after years on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s also expected to become routine with the completion of the Obama Presidential Center, which is being built just down the road.

Attendees create packaged meals during a day of giving event by the Obama Foundation and the Honeycomb Project in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the South Side YMCA in Woodlawn.

Volunteers create packaged meals during a day of giving event by the Obama Foundation and the Honeycomb Project in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the South Side YMCA in Woodlawn.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“There are so many reasons to get up every single day and give back to your neighbors and your community,” Michael Strautmanis, executive vice president of external affairs for the Obama Foundation, told the crowd.

“But so much of what we are doing [is] driven by love. Love for our city. Love for the South Side. Love for each other and the hope that, in giving back and doing for others, we can do one small thing to make our community the beloved community that we all see.”

Obama Foundation Executive Vice President for Public Engagement Michael Strautmanis greets people in attendance during a day of giving event by the organization and the Honeycomb Project in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the South Side YMCA.

Michael Strautmanis, executive vice president of external affairs for the Obama Foundation, greets volunteers in attendance during a day of giving event by the organization and the Honeycomb Project in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the South Side YMCA.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Joining the Obama Foundation at the event was the Honeycomb Project, Nourishing Hope, Growing Home, Connections for Abused Women & their Children, and the Love Fridge.

Volunteers filled the South Side gym. On one end, they packed meal boxes decorated with messages like, “Joy,” “Be Happy” and “You are the Gift.” On the other, they painted rocks, sprinkled seeds into soil and carefully watered them. Others tucked stickers and candy into pouches decorated with messages like, “You are beautiful.”

Boxes of meal kits prepared during a day of giving event Monday at the South Side YMCA are stacked up after being filled and decorated.

Boxes of meal kits prepared during a day of giving event Monday at the South Side YMCA are stacked after being filled and decorated with messages of love.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“The last time we were able to do this was three years ago,” Strautmanis told the Sun-Times.

He said the Obama Foundation’s partnership with the Honeycomb Project developed organically amid the foundation’s desire to begin its mission in Chicago. “Volunteerism became the thing to do,” he said.

Then, when COVID hit, Strautmanis said volunteers tried delivering meals to senior homes near the future site of the Obama Presidential Center.

“But, you know, we just couldn’t bring people together,” Strautmanis said. “Obviously, that felt irresponsible. So it was all on hold.”

Paige Sirleaf and Varsay Sirleaf paint small rocks decorated and labeled with the names of different vegetables to go with the seedling starters during the day of giving event Monday.

Paige Sirleaf and Varsay Sirleaf paint small rocks decorated and labeled with the names of different vegetables to go with the seedling starters during the day of giving event Monday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

That made Monday the “relaunch” of the Obama Foundation’s volunteer efforts in Chicago. Strautmanis said the community around the future Obama Presidential Center site “is beautiful. It has vibrant organizations. But also has profound needs.”

Still, when he walked into the YMCA gym on Monday, Strautmanis said he could feel energy pulsing from inside.

“I could tell that people were excited,” he said. “Excited to be back together again. Excited to actually do something with each other. To help each other.”

Volunteers work on a labels for the meal boxes during the Monday event at the South Side YMCA.

Volunteers work on a labels for the meal boxes during the Monday event at the South Side YMCA.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The Latest
When daughter offers her parents a dream vacation and free care for their child, her mother requests additional babysitting to extend the trip.
Streaming drama illustrates the victim’s anguish but also tries to explain the origins of her attackers’ violent ways.
Brumby and Willum, two 2-year-old koalas, will make their debut at Brookfield Zoo, starting Memorial Day weekend. The zoo is one of 11 accredited zoological facilities in North America to host the marsupials for the public.
MLB
Among the last survivors from the celebrated Brooklyn teams of the 1950s, Erskine spent his entire major league career with the Dodgers from 1948-59, helping them win five National League pennants. He threw a no-hitter against the Cubs in 1952.