By Darlene L. Williams, Contributing Writer

BAKERSFIELD, Calif.—Since it’s launching in 2019, the MLK CommUNITY Initiative (MLK CI) continues to honor it’s commitment to serve the southeast Bakersfield community, marking its one-year anniversary.

The non-profit organization celebrated this pivotal milestone by serving the southeast community and also celebrating the volunteers who committed to one-year of community service— with live music, cake, and gifts.

ShePower CEO; Global Ambassador, Arleana Waller’s passion to serve the southeast community and to help close the economic gap is the driving force that keeps her showing up in the community every third Monday of the month where some 300-500 boxes of food is given away to those in need.

“In our one year food give-away, Waller said, “We’ve had a strong leadership team that has been boots on the ground from day one.”

She credits the success of the MLK CommUNITY to team members: Isaiah Crompton, Ora Frink, Mr. Roosevelt, Ms. Pat and Ms. Jeanette and the volunteers who devote their time each month.

“I really want everybody to understand how important the volunteers are for this first year, they really are the bread and butter to everything we do,” Waller said.” It’s hard work”.

MLK CI is an economic non-profit development collaborative organization that works in partnership with organizations that want to support the work that we are doing, Waller said; specifically in the southeast area.

The southeast area community is under economic development in twenty-five categories with food and security being one of the categories. MLK CI is building a presence and a trust in the area so that it can continue to strategize on the other issues, Waller explained.

Mrs. Waller explained that the MLK CI organization was organically launched through ShePower. And after attending listening parties on behalf of The Frink Firm to learn what the southeast community needed as it related to affordable housing, the firm realized that so much more work was needed before affordable housing could even be addressed.

“So, really this organization was organically formed out of a need and a void in that community as it relates to engagement and education and really to bring in relationship and resources to that area,” she said.

As with every business and or organization, the pandemic has changed the dynamics of doing business as usual. Prior to the COVID -19, the Initiative usually distributed the food at Belle Terrace Park.

It has since moved to 1116 E. California Ave. and is safely offering the same level of community service, but “drive- thru” only. At the launching of its first “drive thru” 22 thousand pounds of food was distributed on the first day servicing 550 families in the southeast area.

To date, the organization has distributed to the community 350 thousand pounds of food. And, while the Initiative primarily serves the southeast area, the food is available to anyone in Kern County who has a need, Waller said.

“What we’ve learned about food and security is that it has a face that looks like yours and mine,” she said. “There is no judgement; we understand that we are all having challenging times.”

In addition to the monthly food give-away, the MLK CI has a weekly protein and fruit box and hot meal program. The food items are given to organizations who reach further out into the community.

Waller stated that the MLK Initiative partners with City Serve, The Missions at Kern County, United Way, CAPK, Jerusalem Mission, Bakersfield News Observer, Adopt A Block Bako, The Frink Firm, ShePower, Caught Up The Game, and Blue Shield which has allowed the organization to provide the weekly resources every Wednesday.

Such organizations as Co-ops, churches and organizations who serve seniors, the homeless and or those in need can also pick up the resources at 1116 East California Ave and go out and serve those populations as well.

In its one-year mission to serve the people of Kern County and close the economic gap, The MLK CommUNITY Initiative has accomplished innumerable milestones worthy of adulations and celebration.

“Everything we’re doing is about closing the economic gap.” Waller said.