PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — All across the country, Americans honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day with acts of service.

In the midst of a devastating pandemic, volunteers are finding their work is more impactful than ever.

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From Paterson, New Jersey to Washington Heights in New York City — families young and old safely set aside fears of COVID and spent MLK Day selflessly packaging food and supplies for underserved communities.

“I think being in service is always important, and it shouldn’t just be done on Martin Luther King. But it’s a good thing to do it on this day, because he was in service to people as a whole,” Manhattan resident Karen Foncette-Moore said.

Montclair State University student Valerie Chica shares the same birthday with the great civil rights leader and spends the holiday every year giving back.

During this time of great national turmoil, she was determined to find a place to volunteer in person, and found it at Father English Food Pantry.

“Hearing other people’s experiences and stories — that opens my eyes,” Chica said.

FOOD RESOURCES FOR TRI-STATE RESIDENTS

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Pre-pandemic, the Dioceses of Paterson fed about 7,000 people a month. That need has since tripled to 21,000 a month. The staggering increase shocked volunteers.

“It’s absolutely so insane. I feel so bad for all these families,” said fellow student Stephanie Pena. “I didn’t know it was that hard.”

Faith leaders from UJA-Federation to Catholic Charities said seeing the country’s youth get involved brings them hope. Carlos Roldan said in the past, he often had no help.

“This past Saturday, we had a truck from the community food bank with 19 palettes of food, and I was here by myself,” he told CBS2’s Christina Fan. “It is a struggle. So when I see volunteers, when I see people, I get very excited.”

“Letting them know that every person counts and giving to others, it makes a difference,” said Sister Maureen Sullivan.

A day of service, hopefully leading to a lifelong commitment.

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CBS2’s Christina Fan contributed to this report.

CBSNewYork Team