The First Parish Congregational Church, UCC of Saco began its first Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service event in 2009 in response to a question posed more than four decades ago by the late civil rights leader: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’ “
For the fifth year running, the church, located at Beach and Main streets, is opening its doors from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to offer people in need a hot meal, a shower, a place to do their laundry, get a haircut and take advantage of a number of health services and screenings being offered on the premises.
The event was founded by Kris Galasyn, the church’s director of Christian education, who envisioned the church’s role in the community being greater than merely serving as a weekly meeting place for religious education opportunities.
“When I arrived here in 2004, the church had just been rebuilt from a fire that had leveled it in 2000,” said Galasyn, of the historic Main Street church that has been a fixture in the community since the early 1800s.
The newly built church was redesigned with mission work in mind and included the addition of separate shower areas for men and women, a laundry room and a state-of-the-art kitchen.
“I thought, ‘This is a really great space and there are so many people out there who might be helped by the facilities we have to offer. So why can’t we do more?’ ” said Galasyn.
“In visioning about what we could do, we thought about the kinds of services people had always sought our church out for — things like food and clothing,” said Galasyn, who built on those basics to realize an annual event that included health care screenings and services by area professionals who volunteer their time for the event.
“This year, we’ll have seven hairdressers here to cut hair and about 10 University of New England students who provide a number of different health care services, like blood pressure checks and nutritional counseling,” said Galasyn, noting that a number of other health care professionals, including a doctor, nurses, a chiropractor and an eye care professional also will be on site to donate their services for the day.
“We never know who may be here. We have people volunteering right up to the last minute.”
The event also serves as a philanthropy launchpad for high school students.
“We have 35 Thornton Academy Interact Club students and another 20 or more students from other area schools signed up to help out with off-site projects,” said Galasyn.
“They will all meet here for a hot breakfast before heading out to places like Joyful Harvest and the Stone Soup (Food Pantry) in Biddeford, where they’ll help out with cleaning and organization jobs to benefit those agencies.”
Members of the church also volunteer their skills and resources — from knitting mittens to acting as facilitators for the day.
A few weeks in advance of the event, congregants participate in a number of Sunday service collections to stock up on supplies, like personal hygiene items and socks.
“Two weeks ago, we had ‘Undies Sunday,’ ” said Galasyn of the service that allowed attendees an opportunity to donate packages of new, unused undergarments.
“That’s actually a much-requested item. Most people don’t mind wearing previously worn clothing — but not someone else’s underwear.”
Many of the events will unfold in the church’s fellowship hall, with half of the space set up for health care stations and the other half with dining tables seating up to 50 people.
A free eggs and pancakes breakfast will be served from 9 to 10:30 a.m., followed by a luncheon featuring hot soups and sandwiches from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Greeters will be stationed at the doors to welcome people and direct them to services, which are available to all who are in need.
“We don’t ask for identification or specifics,” said Galasyn. “These services are available, free of charge, to anyone who is having a hard time making ends meet or whoever is in need. We offer this event as our way of giving back to the community.”
For more details, call the church at 283-3771.
Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: