NATICK, Mass. (Jan. 17, 2014) -- In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy, the personnel of the Natick Soldier Systems Center hosted a food drive Jan. 6-13.

The donations were delivered Jan. 15 to the Marlborough Community Cupboard, the Salvation Army- Framingham Food Pantry, the Natick Service Council and the Worcester County Food Bank. The Equal Employment Office received more than 6,000 pounds of food.

Jan. 15 would have also been King's 85th birthday if he were still alive today.

After a short introduction, Willena Rosemond-Lopes led the audience in singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which is often referred to as the Black National Anthem.

"I want to thank the Black Employment Program Committee for making the special emphasis observance into a day of service," said Lt. Col. Brian Greata, USAG-Natick garrison commander. "This is a win-win event and allows us to showcase NSSC's community service spirit in giving back and helping others.

"Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to pursuing the greater good. The NSSC Day of Service honors that legacy and improves the lives of those in need from the local community. The volunteers who gathered all the donations for this program did a remarkable job, and represented NSSC superbly."

Although representatives from each organization could not attend the program, Barbara LaGrenade, office coordinator for the Marlborough Community Cupboard, accepted their donations.

"On behalf of United Way of Tri-County and the Marlborough Community Cupboard, we are honored," LeGrenade said. "Our board of directors, volunteers and staff want to thank everybody for their outpouring of generous donations to help support our community."

The Marlborough Community Cupboard serves more than 400 families each month and has a goal of reducing levels of food insecurity, while strengthening the connections between people and available resources.

"It is their mission to provide hunger relief, improve the quality of life, and connect families and neighbors in need to essential services in the community," said Greata.

After the program, those in attendance were encouraged to participate in a day of service, which included packaging food and hygiene products and preparing them for delivery.

Spc. Travis Crook, a biological science specialist for the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and a Black Employment Program Committee member, said he thought the MLK observance was one of the more effective programs he has participated in.

"(The food drive) allowed Soldiers and civilians on the installation to be actively engaged and involved with the program," Crook said, "and allowed them to have a stronger understanding of what the purpose of Martin Luther King's message was … and why the observance is recognized."

Crook said with the help of donations from the installation, as well as the Hanscom Air Force Base commissary, committee members were able to accomplish that goal.

Crook is no stranger to community service. He tries to volunteer about once a month at the Framingham Salvation Army.

Upon committee members' arrival at the Salvation Army's curbside, volunteers from the center were quick to lend a helping hand.

Deborah Hanbury, administrative assistant at the Salvation Army-Framingham Food Pantry said the food will assist those in need. Hanbury added that the pantry benefits about 100 to 160 people per week, and they also cook meals for about 60 to 100 people every night.

"We average about 35 percent homeless veterans that come in to eat," said a Marine veteran volunteering at the center, who wanted to remain anonymous.

"The veteran shelter in Boston is the same way; you see guys walking up and they're beat up, their hardened and they've had a rough go," the veteran said. "There are thousands of programs, but not all of them get utilized."

Greg Tutuny, executive director of the Natick Service Council, said he appreciated the gifts donated.

"We rely on the generosity of the Natick community, including local citizens (and) organizations," Tutuny said. "We serve low-income residents in the town of Natick … (and) the food pantry is our main program.

"Natick is an incredibly generous town and we work close with (NSSC) and a number of different initiatives and we're just proud to partner with them."

The Natick Service Council serves roughly 700 families in Natick, and Tutuny estimated the donated food will serve about 100 families for one to two weeks.

Through service projects that strengthen communities and create solutions, as well as empower individuals and bridge barriers, Dr. King is celebrated by all Americans of every age and background.