COVINGTON - Nearly 200 Newton County students celebrated the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday getting their hands dirty.
About 180 student volunteers from Georgia Perimeter College, Oxford College and several Newton County public schools, as well as a few adult helpers, worked Monday to build two community gardens, plant trees and clean up trash in Covington for an event sponsored by Hands-On Newton County. Snapping Shoals EMC and a grant from the Youth Service America-State Farm Food Neighbor provided funding.
"If we didn't do this, a lot of things wouldn't be the same," said Gabriel Bragg, a fourth-grade student from Middle Ridge Elementary School. "It would be dirty."
Bragg, who was participating in his first-ever community service project, joined many other middle and high school students and area college students in doing something productive with their day off from classes.
"I feel people who care make a difference on their day off," said Tai Avery, a ninth-grade student at Newton High School who helped in the service project with 12 other girls from a new community service group, GIRLZ Destiny. "One person can make a big difference."
Several smaller groups split up to clear and prepare two sites for vegetable and fruit gardens at Turner Lake Recreational Complex, along with an area beside the building that houses the Community Food Pantry and FaithWorks. In the spring, volunteers plan to plant fruits and vegetables to give to the food pantry, needy senior citizens and other local individuals and families living in poverty.
"It is a beginning of growing thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables for the neediest people," said Crystal McLaughlin, director of student development at Oxford College.
Lindy Wood, education and outreach coordinator at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, encouraged the volunteers to continue their involvement with the project since it was just beginning and more work will be needed in the future for planting and upkeep.
"This is something that will require all of us to be involved," Wood told the group. "When you think about it, just about everything we do that connects us involves food. ... You're going to help build a community and build love."
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.