In St. Petersburg, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a celebration. A crowd of thousands lines First Avenue South for the parade that attracts marching bands from across Florida and the South and church and community groups from across St. Pete and Pinellas County. Afterward, a family day celebration in a parking lot near Tropicana Field features food, games and music.
A few miles to the south in the Midtown neighborhood, the morning hours before the parade involve volunteers working the earth instead of marching bands entertaining the crowd. As part of the annual MLK Day of Service, a diverse group of nearly 100 volunteers turned out at the St. Pete Youth Farm to plant, mulch, harvest, build planting beds and handle other chores to help the youth-run community farm and charity organization fulfill its mission.
“What’s exciting for me is to clearly see the diversity of the people who are here,” says Carla Bristol, the collaboration manager for the St. Pete Youth Farm. “That is exactly what the day is about. And this time that everyone is spending here allows me to continue the rich programming that we have for our teens. If I don’t have this type of support, our teens are spending all this time doing this work.”
Instead, the teens who work at the farm are able to balance their learning and service work in the community garden with time spent developing public speaking, financial literacy and other skills. The volunteers also contribute to the St. Pete Youth Farm’s mission of providing fresh produce and hundreds of mini gardens to residents of a south St. Petersburg community that lacks nutritious food options after the closure of two grocery stores.
Rodrique Rodney volunteered with his three daughters and his wife, a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
”It’s important to get the kids out and make sure they're volunteering and seeing what’s going on in the community,” he says.
Nationally, the MLK Day of Service dates back to the King Holiday and Day of Service Act of 1994. At the St. Pete Youth Farm, this is the third annual event. Bristol says they started the event during COVID in 2021 because the outdoor community farm gave plenty of room to social distance and people were looking to get out of the house and do something. She says the annual Day of Service helps the St. Pete Youth Farm and other nonprofit community groups gain exposure and attract new volunteers who come back again.
“They want a day of purpose and this provides a day of purpose for so many people,” she says.
For more information, go to St. Pete Youth Farm