In Brunswick, Sen. King lends hand, ear to honor the Rev. Dr. King

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BRUNSWICK — The Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program was abuzz on Monday morning as U.S. Sen. Angus King, sporting a red apron and plastic gloves, cleared tables during lunch hour.

It was the first stop on the independent Maine senator’s daylong local service tour in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. King’s day ended with him giving the opening remarks at the 37th annual MLK Holiday Dinner at Holiday Inn Portland By the Bay.

After volunteering at Mid Coast, King visited The Gathering Place, a daytime shelter next door. Later, the Maine senator met with young people involved in Seeds of Peace, an organization that runs a summer camp in Otisfield that aims to teach participants how to promote peace in their communities. 

King, a Brunswick resident, said engaging with local philanthropy for the holiday seemed like a logical choice.

“Martin Luther King Jr. Day across the country is a day of service, and it made sense to me to start in my hometown; I live two blocks from here,” he said. “This is an amazing organization, it’s mostly volunteers and they do this every single day.”

Several of those volunteers were excited about King’s visit, including two who paused their serving duties for a selfie with the senator.

Executive Director Karen Parker said Mid Coast depends heavily on volunteer support, calling community help a “lifeline” to the facility. She said many of the facility’s volunteers work four- or five-hour shifts more than once a week.

King is no stranger to local service; his first job out of law school was working for Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Skowhegan.

He said while working for Pine Tree, he was able to witness the depth and complexity of some people’s troubles. If their overall problems were 3 feet long, King said, using a metaphor, legal help would only account for about 6 inches of it.

“They had dental problems, they may have had mental health problems, in other words they had a whole range, and I could deal with part of it, but I couldn’t deal with all of it,” he said. “Politics, if you think about it, is a way of dealing with all of it.”

King pointed out that lunchtime at Mid Coast illuminates the wide range of people served by the facility, some of whom may have just hit a rough patch and require services for a little while. 

Parker said King’s presence on Monday was a “gift,” and she thinks his firsthand engagement with the community is crucial.

“Really, a lot of these people have no influence, they have no voice,” Parker said. “He is their voice, so the fact that he actually came here to talk to people and serve people, he can represent them so much better than someone who doesn’t mingle.”‘

King said serving at places like Mid Coast provides a real-world perspective on issues he also works on away from home.

While in Washington, for instance, he said he might deal with a budget for the Department of Agriculture, featuring a “little line” for supporting food distribution programs.

“This is it,” he said. “It takes it from the abstract to what happens in real life, in real people’s lives.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, began a day of local service in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day by clearing tables during lunch at the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program in Brunswick.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, donned a red apron, name tag and label reading “busser” for his time volunteering at a local soup kitchen on Monday. 

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, chats with Karen Parker, the executive director of Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.