Thousands participated in volunteer events in all 50 states Saturday — feeding the hungry, planting trees and, in coastal New York and New Jersey, clearing debris and repairing dunes left after Hurricane Sandy.
The Obamas, Vice President Biden and their families and members of the Cabinet fanned out to service events across the Washington area, with the Obamas wielding paintbrushes to stain a shelf at Burrville Elementary School in Northeast.
The president praised the importance of adults teaching children to give back, quoted King’s famous “drum major” speech and spoke of the energy of the next generation of volunteers.
“This is really what America is about. This is what we celebrate,” Obama said. “This inauguration . . . should also be an affirmation that we’re all in this together and that we’ve got to look out for each other.”
Elsewhere in the region, hundreds of people bundled in coats and hats attended the inauguration’s signature service event, a large fair on the Mall where celebrities including Chelsea Clinton and Eva Longoria appeared and attendees wandered among booths promoting volunteer opportunities with Bread for the City, the American Red Cross, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, the Catholic Volunteer Network and others.
Some tapped on laptops at kiosks, pledging a certain number of community service hours, part of the administration’s hope that people will continue to serve after this one high-profile day. The Presidential Inaugural Committee said that 13,000 people attended the fair and that people across the country had pledged more than 1 million hours of service across their communities.
“This is awesome!” said Debra Upshaw, 57, of Chicago as she unfurled a blanket from an organization that supports black women and families. “If we could get 10 percent of the people that sign up” to follow through and volunteer, it would be wonderful, she said. “People are so needed.”
Many of those who came waited in long lines to perform actual service, making cards and bookplates for needy children. Some of those eager to help had to find different options because their first choices were clogged with volunteers.
More than 1 million people across the country participated in the day of service for Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that promotes volunteerism. Many more came the next day to hear the president stand on the Capitol steps and issue a stirring call to service: “We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America.”