On January 15, “We the People,” a non-profit organization started by Bergen County Freeholder Tracy Silna Zur, hosted a multicultural interfaith day of service at the VFW in Saddle Brook. The chance to help others brought together more than 200 students representing many of Bergen County’s diverse religious and cultural groups to work on community service projects and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King by giving back to their communities.

Donations for the day of service came from Inserra Supermarkets, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, Learning Express of Ridgewood, Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, and Market Basket.

Ezra Shafron, Akmal Pasha, Abdullah Hasan, Ahmar Sagheer, Daniella Atiya and Linda Chiappetta work on a mosaic project the Glen Rock Arboretum.

“For students and our young people, this shouldn’t be just another day off,” Ms. Zur said. “This is a day to reflect upon the lessons and the legacy of Dr. King by performing community service projects. We wanted to send a message to our young people that helping others is something that all faiths and all communities should be doing, and that we are stronger when we do these things together. “

The students worked on a number of projects; they created hygiene kits for the homeless, activity bags for patients at the Hackensack Meridian Health Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital, cat toys for the Bergen County Animal Shelter, wrote letters to active duty soldiers, and packed blankets for seniors at the nursing home at New Bridge Medical Center. They also created glass murals to adorn benches to be donated to Spring House for Women and the Glen Rock Arboretum. The students also participated in a “conversation station,” where they exchanged stories about their heritage, holidays, and hobbies, and learned about differing traditions and shared values.

Ahmar Sagheer, Sammy Atyyat, Avi Schneck, Ezra Winslow and Lilly Harris of Lodi, Teaneck, and Fair Lawn, assembled packets for cancer patients at Hackensack Meridian Health Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital. (Photos by Amy Soukas)

Ms. Zur organized the first day of service last year, as a response to increasingly divisive rhetoric in the nation.

“This is a time when we should be teaching our children that our diversity is our strength, and that we should be moving past tolerance towards understanding each other,” she said. “That is what I hope these young people were able to take away from this day — that despite our different beliefs and traditions, that we are all Americans and it’s up to all of us to not only build bridges with each other, but to reach out a helping hand to help improve the lives of others, together, as a community. Dr. King said that ‘love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend’ and that ‘we may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now,’ and I hope that’s the message that these students were able to walk away with today.”

Ms. Zur said that her favorite part of the day was when the students, some of whom at first were reluctant to join groups with strangers, exchanged contact information with their newfound friends by the end of the day. “That’s what this day is all about,” she said. “By fostering understanding and building friendships, we can only strengthen our community.”