On a cold and rainy Monday afternoon in St. Louis, Missouri, hundreds of volunteers and residents came together at the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis’ headquarters to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On the holiday dedicated to the civil rights icon, volunteers showed up by the dozens for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Tribute food drive, an event that gets food and other items into the hands of families experiencing food insecurity.
The food drive was presented by the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis (ULSTL), an organization that has provided social services to the St. Louis area for over a century.
“We know that there are thousands of people here who need our help and support, and this does our hearts good to be able to help people in need,” said Thomas R. Bailey, Jr, ULSTL vice president of development and special events. “This drive-thru here today on Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the best place for us to be.”
“I thought it was a beautiful way to keep Dr. Martin Luther King alive – his dream, his vision,” said Janice Gray, who waited in line to receive a food box for her family. “It brings tears to my eyes to know that we still are able to care for each other even in difficult times.”
The Church is supporting ULSTL’s efforts with a donation of 40,000 pounds of food for Monday’s food drive. Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, Sister Tracy Y. Browning, second counselor in the Primary General Presidency, and Elder Randall K. Bennett, General Authority Seventy and Second Counselor in the North America Central Area Presidency, were all present at the food drive. They helped volunteers distribute boxes to expectant families.
“It’s a beautiful thing that we’re in this together, we feel like family,” said Elder Bennett. “We are brothers and sisters and what families do is help one another and love one another. That’s what I see [here today] and that’s what [Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr.’s] vision represents to me.”
“It has just been marvelous to watch all these people who came out with no sunshine, in cold weather and rain, who are just here to support and serve those in the community. It’s a really beautiful spirit here today,” said Sister Browning.
“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision was that we would all be treated as children of God,” said Sister Yee. “He saw that. He understood that. He felt that and so do we. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe we are all children of our Heavenly Father, and all have value and worth innately because of that relationship with God.”
The Church’s relationship with the League began in 2020. Local Latter-day Saints started volunteering with the League through JustServe, a community service website sponsored by the Church. In total, the Church has donated more than 120,000 pounds of food to ULSTL over the course of the pandemic.
The Church has also provided financial assistance to the League’s job-training program, Save Our Sons (Save Our Sisters), as well as their “Grills to Glory” program. The latter is a collaboration between the League and local churches to strengthen communities.
“There is a tremendous alignment between the Church and the Urban League,” said Michael P. McMillan, CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, on a visit to Church Headquarters in Salt Lake in December 2022.
About 2,000 boxes of canned goods and nonperishable items were distributed to families in need, who waited for hours in a drive-thru line to receive the donations. Volunteers loaded the boxes in the trunk of the car once it reached the front of the line.
For over a week leading up to the event, members of the greater St. Louis community, including many Latter-day Saints, donated their time to prepare the thousands of food boxes needed. McMillan said he’s grateful for this continued support.
“The Church came to our aid on numerous occasions with volunteers wanting to give back and then sending truckloads of food on several occasions that … we didn’t have to buy because of the Church,” McMillan said during his December visit to Salt Lake.
Volunteers from multiple local organizations and businesses helped distribute eggs, frozen turkeys, dairy products, rice, pasta, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other food staples. The St. Louis Area Foodbank also provided a large donation of food for the event.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to give back and to really answer [Dr. King’s] question about ‘What are you doing for others?’” expressed Meredith Knopp, president and CEO of the St. Louis Area Foodbank.
Tour of Church Headquarters
The mission of the ULSTL is to empower African Americans and others throughout the St. Louis region to secure economic self-reliance, social equality and civil rights. In this, they share a common goal with the Church of Jesus Christ.
Back in December 2022, leaders of the Urban League visited the Church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, touring Welfare Square, the Humanitarian Center and the Bishops’ Central Storehouse. These visits helped ULSTL vice president of public safety and community response James Clark see how their mission aligns beautifully with that of the Church.
“The common ground is being mission-driven, focusing on what Jesus would do,” Clark said in an interview last December. “God has blessed us with the resources to be able to serve and feed people in a number of ways [and] being able to connect with a partner that can send in the … things that we need to strengthen what we’re doing on the ground.”