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By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer –

For some folks, Martin Luther King Jr. Day means a day off from work or school, but for those who sign up to help at nonprofit groups and churches, such as RISE and the Hightstown Presbyterian Church, it is a day “on” – and this year is no exception.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is set for Jan. 15, but volunteers at the First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown will be gathering on Jan. 12 to sort and prepare “night care packages” of pajamas, stuffed animals and books for young children through RISE’s “Put Poverty to Bed” drive. RISE offers social support services to those who need it.

The pajama drive, coordinated between the First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown and RISE, is in part an answer to the question once posed by Dr. King – “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What have you done for others.'”

For the past seven years, RISE has worked with the First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown in the “Put Poverty to Bed” drive to honor Dr. King’s call to action. Companies and businesses set up pajama drives, and RISE collects the donated pajamas, stuffed animals, toothbrushes and books.

“We adopted the ‘Put Poverty to Bed’ drive because creating the bedtime packages is easy and fun for all ages. The pajamas are welcomed by our families, and they appreciate a new toothbrush as much as the pajamas,” said Leslie Koppel, RISE’s executive director.

The First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown became involved with the “Put Poverty to Bed” pajama drive in response to President Barack Obama’s challenge to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday by serving others, rather than taking off, said Mary Maleski, director of the church’s Children, Youth and Family Ministries.

“I spoke with Leslie Koppel to find a way that we could do something so that all ages could be participants,” Maleski said. “Together, we came up with the night care packages. Led by our youth group, we collected donations and invited families to join us in our endeavor.”

“Each year, we are able to gather and create more than 75 night care packages. This is a great way for even our youngest members – 3-year-olds – to learn to live into loving our neighbor,” Maleski said.


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