NORTH ADAMS — The frigid winter weather didn't deter more than 350 volunteers as they swarmed over the Northern Berkshires on Monday to mark the annual MLK Day of Service.
Projects included collecting food, winterizing the homes of the elderly, cleaning churches, building free meal kits, making care packages for soldiers, working with youngsters, as well as making blankets and mittens to keep folks warm this winter.
"People here know that being involved in whatever way you can is one of the most important things you can do," said organizer Kathy Keeser. "Leaving home to become a stronger partner in the community is how you build a stronger community."
Volunteers seemed to be nearly everywhere. They were of all ages, and all kinds of backgrounds, including a significant contingent of students from both Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Williams College.
They were cleaning and organizing at the First Baptist Church, the First Congregational Church in Williamstown, the Northern Berkshire Branch of the Berkshire Family YMCA in North Adams, and the Louison House in Adams.
There were others reorganizing and stocking shelves at the Goodwill store in North Adams, and sorting goods at the Friendship Center Food Pantry. Some traveled to the Stop & Shop to collect food donations, while still others winterized the windows of about 20 homes.
At the MCLA Church Street Center, volunteers gathered in groups to sew mittens, while others made blankets or care packages for local soldiers.
There was also a seemingly massive effort to build meal kits for folks who use the Friendship Center Food Pantry.
In preparation for Monday's efforts, volunteers had been collecting food at Stop and Shop in North Adams for about two weeks, according to coordinator Amanda Chilson with Be Well Berkshires.
They would present shoppers with a list of items needed for specific, healthy and simple recipes. Many of the shoppers bought the nonperishable items while they were doing their own shopping, and dropped it off with the volunteers on their way out of the store.
Monday, still other volunteers put the ingredients for the recipes into a shopping bag, along with the recipe — enough for one or two meals in each bag.
Chilson said that by Monday, more than 1,000 pounds of food had been gathered, and about 100 meal kits set up and delivered to the Friendship Center on Eagle Street.
Recipes included such dishes as American Style Rice and Beans, Jazzed Up Oatmeal, and Tomato Soup With a Twist, all taken from the locally printed E3 Academy Cookbook.
Chilson said the reaction by shoppers at Stop & Shop was impressive.
"The community was very excited about helping their neighbors," she said.
Adams Hinds, executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, was industriously sewing mittens — one of about two dozen people at four tables working on the mitten mission.
"It's pretty inspiring whenever you have a few hundred people bent on serving the community," he said. "It's such a terrific outcome."
Nearly 50 pairs of mittens were produced, and they'll be available at Brayton Elementary School for youngsters with cold hands.
At noon more than 300 people gathered at the Church Street Center for a lunch donated by local businesses and prepared and served by still more volunteers. Lunch consisted of fried chicken, pizza, macaroni and cheese, corn bread, salad and chili.
The room was packed.
After lunch, Alex Dougherty, chairman of the Martin Luther King Committee, praised the gathered crowd for their work.
"Three hundred and fifty people — that's one heck of a community commitment," he said.
"It's a remarkable effort," agreed North Adams Mayor Dick Alcombright. "And I want to thank all of you for your gift of time today."
"A day like this really shows our enthusiasm and commitment to our love of our neighbors and our love of the neighborhoods," said state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, also congratulated the crowd of volunteers.
"Don't ever underestimate the power of your actions and what those actions can do to change lives, or even to change just one life," Downing said.
He added that Martin Luther King Jr. "would be incredibly proud of the work done by you all today."
Later, the Martin Luther King 2016 Peacemaker Award was present to PopCares, a local group of volunteers formed in 2012 in the memory Bill "Pop" St. Pierre. They provide local support for families battling cancer. So far, the group has served about 330 families.