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Thousands find ways to serve others in honor of King Day

A look at how the Washington area celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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Last year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the then-president-elect helped paint a homeless shelter for teenagers in Northeast Washington.

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So it was no surprise that on Monday, when the Obama motorcade set out from the White House, the first couple's mission was to demonstrate the sort of civic activism the president had espoused the day before.

Obama rolled up his sleeves and pulled on a lime-green apron to help serve lunch to the hungry and homeless at So Others Might Eat, a 40-year-old soup kitchen in the District. As he dished out hot food, the president chatted with people who arrived in the grimy uniform of those who live on the streets, worn parkas and wool caps, their faces unshaven.

One woman was so surprised to see the president that she broke into tears.

"Let's go to work," he said, taking his station in the food line, prepared to serve paper plates of chicken and potato salad. "I'm ready!"

He shook hands with each person he served, greeting them with "How are you, sir?" and "Good to see you."

The first lady and the couple's children, Sasha and Malia, put on the green aprons and worked among the tables, asking people if they wanted more to eat.

"See if anyone wants coffee," Mrs. Obama instructed Sasha, 8, who handed out packets of sweetener while her mother poured.

The first lady's mother, Marian Robinson, carried a baking sheet filled with pastries to go with the coffee.

Members of Obama's Cabinet also participated Monday. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner prepared food for shelters at Washington Hebrew Congregation; Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. helped feed people at Church of the Epiphany; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar worked on a cleanup and beautification project at the D.C. War Memorial on the Mall; and Education Secretary Arne Duncan took part in an effort to paint Ronald Brown Middle School.

Staff writers Michael Fletcher, Victoria Riess and Michael Birnbaum contributed to this report.


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