- The Washington Times - Monday, January 18, 2010

President Obama and his family paid tribute Monday to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. by serving hot lunches to the needy in Washington.

The first family served lunch and spoke for about an hour with roughly 100 guests at the So Others Might Eat soup kitchen and homeless-service provider.

“We got a lot of struggle in this neighborhood,” a man shouted to Mr. Obama as he entered the facility, in a hardscrabble section of the city just north of Capitol Hill.

Inside, the president, wearing an apron and khaki baseball cap, handed out pre-assembled lunch plates of chicken, potato salad, mixed vegetables and bread.

“How are you, sir? God bless you,” Mr. Obama said to one of the men he served.

Mrs. Obama — dressed in purple Converse sneakers and also wearing an apron and khaki baseball cap — walked around pouring coffee, alongside 8-year-old daughter Sasha and amid lively jazz music playing on a stereo.

“See if anyone else wants coffee,” she instructed her daughter as they served guests and asked each how they were doing.

The president’s mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, and the Obamas’ elder daughter, Malia, 11, served danishes and asked guests whether they needed more of anything.

The nonprofit facility’s Emily Van Loon said about 800 meals are served daily there and that a female guest was so surprised at being served by the president that she broke into tears.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is working with the White House on the MLK Day of Service, roughly 10,000 projects are taking place Monday across the country. Service projects will focus on serving meals, beautifying schools, weatherizing homes and providing employment counseling.

Other events on King’s birthday included a speech at his church in Atlanta, Ebenezer Baptist, by Princeton University scholar Cornel West.

On Sunday, the first family attended services at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, founded in the District of Columbia by freed slaves.

Mr. Obama talked about how the struggles of this era are similar to those voiced by King when he talked about the Challenge of a New Age — when racism persisted despite major civil rights victories in courts.

“So here we are, more than half a century later, once again facing the challenges of a new age,” Mr. Obama said. “Here we are, once more marching toward an unknown future, what I call the Joshua generation to their Moses generation — the great inheritors of progress paid for with sweat and blood and sometimes life itself.”

• Joseph Weber can be reached at jweber@washingtontimes.com.old.

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