Celebrating MLK Day by Serving the Redwood City Community

February 6, 2017

Over the past Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Peninsula Multifaith Coalition (PMC) held its 5th Annual Multifaith MLK Day of Service. This special event brought together 450 volunteers from 22 different faith houses to work on 24 community service projects throughout the Bay Area Community. Joining the Multifaith Day of Service this year were 22 Shinnyo-en members and Foundation staff, grateful and excited to be able to participate. With support from the Foundation, the Shinnyo-en USA Head Temple located in Redwood City has been a participating member of PMC for four years. PMC is a volunteer-led group of faith congregations and organizations working together on projects, such as this one, to improve the Bay Area community.


The morning started bright and early at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Foster City, where volunteers were warmly greeted and checked-in. They were then led to a freshly prepared buffet breakfast of eggs, pastries, fruits and other goodies that would energize them for their service projects. Once everyone had a chance to be seated with their service project groups, Richard Heiman of Peninsula Temple Beth El and  the chairperson of the Multifaith MLK Day of Service committee of the PMC, took the stage to welcome everyone to the Day of Service and recognize each faith house that was present. Rev. Leo Fan, Temple Manager of the Head Temple, also was invited to the stage. Along with his excitement for being able to participate for the first time this year, Rev. Fan spoke about the Buddhist practice as follows: “According to Shakyamuni Buddha, when we practice by ourselves, we can only see ourselves. When we practice together with good friends, we can see many, many sides of ourselves.” He also mentioned how important it was for Shinnyo-en practitioners to offer service to the community on that day.

After hearing the short yet motivating speeches by Rev. Fan and other faith house leaders, volunteers dispersed to their project sites. Shinnyo-en members made their way to the multipurpose room of Fair Oaks Elementary School located in Redwood City, where they were met by Lionel Engelman, co-founder of PMC and the project leader at Fair Oaks for the Day of Service. After Rev. Stefanie Etzbach-Dale reminded us about the reasons why we were all serving our community together, all of the volunteers positioned themselves to their assigned placements to start gardening, painting or reading to students. As the sun began emerging from the clouds, the gardeners moved outside to their plots to weed or plant. Among them was Rev. Kenichi Seshita, Associate Manager of Temple Volunteer Coordination Section of Shinnyo-en Head Temple in Japan. Rev. Seshita worked tirelessly by pulling weeds that were thick and green from the recent rain and worked side by side with the members of other faith groups. On the other side of the school near a basketball course, the painters gathered on the asphalt around an outline of a world map. Meanwhile, readers moved to a classroom and were paired up with a student, or “reading buddy.”


Along with Rev. Fan, Jemima Oso, the 2016-2017 SPIN/Shinnyo Fellow read books with a 6th grader. Reflecting back on her reading buddy experience, Jemima wrote, “I cannot think of a better way to have spent my Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Serving as a reading buddy allowed me to engage with the younger generation in conversations about civic engagement, the Civil Rights movement, and resilience, as well as witness their joy as they got to take books home to fill their shelves. I am now looking into ways I can continue to serve as a reading partner in the community. This experience inspired me. That said, I am very grateful for this opportunity.”

After about 2 hours of service, the volunteers all came back into the multipurpose room to wrap up the event with pizza, courtesy of the Fair Oaks’ Principal Josh Griffith, and conversation with their new and old friends.

It was a wonderful day of breaking bread and volunteering together with people of many different faiths, ethnicities and backgrounds, all working toward the common goal of serving the greater community. On this Multifaith MLK Day of Service, breakfast was served to volunteers, students and parents, 1,000 books were distributed to children, 44 baby hats and 55 blankets were made, and 225 toys were crafted for children in hospitals. In addition, cumulative hours were spent teaching reading skills to elementary school students and their parents, 2 school grounds and gardens were beatified, 350 soup mix kits were made for the socially and economically challenged families, and seniors at 2 senior living centers had their days brightened by a group of singers. Last but not least, 110 bags were hand sewn for pairs of new shoes to be given to underprivileged children, and 50 women and men at a local shelter were served lunch. Thank you to the PMC for all their hard work in organizing this amazing Day of Service and for allowing us to take part in such a meaningful community service.