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The Power of Service on MLK Day: West Des Moines’ Partnership with Meals from the Heartland

MLK Day in West Des Moines

January 12, 2024

This article was written by the following:

The markings of a great community are a compassionate community. Every January, we celebrate the enduring life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. His poignant words, intellect and tireless pursuit of justice left a lasting mark on all Americans. His life was a true testament of service and transformative leadership. He was able to use his influence to change laws, increase racial consciousness and ultimately create opportunity for all.

At the core of Dr. King’s rhetoric and determination were his profound belief in the transformative power of service. In a sermon given on Feb. 4, 1968, Dr. King declared, "Everyone can be great because everybody can serve." Fifty-six years later, this statement continues to ring true as communities across the nation come together on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024 to serve their neighbors. The City of West Des Moines has similarly embraced this call to action, by declaring Martin Luther King Jr. Day an official Day of Service by partnering with Meals from the Heartland to provide food to those in our community.

Meals from the Heartland, founded on the mission of “Empowering people to save starving children,” has been a beacon of service since its inception in 2008. In 2022 alone, the organization distributed a staggering 26,224,344 meals worldwide and amassed an impressive 107,487 volunteer hours. While their mission may not have been explicitly aimed at aligning with Dr. King’s teachings, the organization's commitment to service unmistakably echoes his call for action.

Having established its West Des Moines facility in 2014, Meals from the Heartland has become an integral part of MLK Day in the community. More than 3,500 volunteers have joined forces, packaging over 1,100,000 meals for the Greater Des Moines (DSM) community to battle against world hunger. This collaborative effort emphasizes a shared commitment to realize Dr. King's vision of the Beloved Community — a vision where injustice is eradicated, and love prevails.

MLK Day in West Des Moines in 2024

On Monday, Jan.15, Meals from the Heartland and the City of West Des Moines will once again pay tribute to Dr. King's legacy by engaging in a day of service at their West Des Moines facility. The partnership aims to package 150,000 meals, destined for local food banks, food pantries or wherever the need arises. The initiative is designed to offer sustenance and hope to those grappling with food insecurity in the local community and worldwide. Residents are encouraged to actively participate in this Day of Service by joining the meal-packaging event on Monday, January 15, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Meals from the Heartland facility (357 Lincoln Street, West Des Moines, IA 50265).

Following the morning of service, the City of West Des Moines in partnership with the Greater Des Moines Partnership will host a free MLK Day event at the MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex (6500 Grand Ave, West Des Moines, IA 50266) from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event is open to all individuals and families, offering an opportunity to come together in the spirit of connection and unity. This year's keynote speaker, Rich A. Salas, Ph.D., Chief Diversity Officer, and Assistant Professor for the Behavioral Medicine and Bioethics Department at Des Moines University, promises to deliver insights that resonate with the values upheld by Dr. King.

The partnership between the City of West Des Moines and Meals from the Heartland serves as a powerful reminder of the power of collaboration on MLK Day. Through our collective efforts, we can breathe life into Dr. King's teachings, translating his words into tangible action and leaving a positive impact on our community.

As we approach MLK Day, let this day serve as a “day-on” as we renew our commitment to service. Let our partnership stand as an example of how communities can converge, address pressing issues and strive towards creating a more just and compassionate society. It encapsulates the spirit of unity, echoing Dr. King’s belief that greatness is attainable for all through the selfless act of serving others.

Learn more about this event at wdm.iowa.gov.

Author Profiles

Audrey Kennis

Audrey Kennis serves as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director for the City of West Des Moines. Committed to justice and equity, Kennis helps shape policies and programs that promote inclusion and strong communities. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and Philosophy and a Master’s degree in Education (M.Ed.) with a certificate in Social Justice Education.

Greg DeHaai

Greg DeHaai serves as the Executive Director at Meals from the Heartland headquartered in West Des Moines. Passionate about helping those fighting food insecurity, DeHaai leads a team of 17 who worked with more than 60,000 volunteers in 2023 to package meals. A West Des Moines native, he received his B.A. at the University of Northern Iowa in Marketing & Sales and spent 25 years in corporate America before joining Meals from the Heartland.

From Pride to Juneteenth to the Latino Heritage Festival, big, inclusive events are par for the course in Greater Des Moines (DSM). But there are smaller events celebrating diversity here, too. Attend one of the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Multicultural Receptions, an event celebrating veterans or a sensory-friendly event in the region. Learn more here.

City of West Des Moines

The City of West Des Moines, Iowa is a rapidly growing City located at the crossroads of Interstates 35 and 80. More than 63,000 people call this community home and enjoy exceptional quality of life and recreational amenities such as extensive bike trails, beautiful parks and an active public arts presence.