The temperature was barely above freezing early Saturday morning as a group of volunteers bundled in scarves, gloves and jackets laid down drop cloths and grabbed paintbrushes.
Despite the frigid air, there was much to do. By Monday, these and other volunteers will have painted nearly 40 buildings along Scenic Highway in Scotlandville as part of the fourth annual MLK Festival of Service.
The event is put on by dozens of community groups in celebration of the Martin Luther King Day holiday. Organizers predict at least 2,000 — and perhaps as many as 5,000 — people to take part in the four-day festival, which began on Friday.
An initiative to beautify high visibility sections of East Baton Rouge Parish will kick off this weekend in the College Drive/Perkins Road corridor.
Besides repainting and cleaning up around the buildings, some of which also will be decorated with murals, four community gardens will be planted. The bulk of the volunteer turnout is expected on Monday's holiday, which also will feature a block party and an outdoor town hall meeting.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and other elected officials are expected to be on hand for Monday's activities.
The work is taking place at sites along a two-mile stretch of Scenic Highway between Airline Highway and Swan Avenue.
“There’s nothing scenic about it at this time," said Pat McCallister-LeDuff, president of the Scotlandville-based Community Against Drugs and Violence, one of the organizations leading the festival. "We feel if we come in and improve the look of our community, that will help improve crime.”
Baton Rouge has a lot of work to do before the capital city embodies the look and feel Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome outlined Tuesday e…
She hopes the cleanup effort will instill a sense of pride in residents and promote business investment in the area, which has struggled with crime and blight.
“It’s a holistic approach in improving where we are," McCallister-LeDuff said.
If “you get people working and feeling good about where they live, things are going to get better," she added.
About 400 to 500 volunteers worked on Friday, and that many showed up again on Saturday, said Casey Phillips, executive director of The Walls Project, a nonprofit group best known for painting murals around Baton Rouge. Those people did the groundwork for tasks to be tackled by a much larger cohort of volunteers on Monday, and also began some of the painting.
"There's multiple buildings that have been built at different times ... and in lots of different ways, and we're trying to give some cohesiveness to the landscape and make it more attractive for not only business investment, but also just customers," said Phillips, whose organization is spearheading the Festival of Service.
He spent Saturday morning dispatching volunteers and driving a U-Haul truck up and down Scenic Highway, delivering supplies to work sites.
"Organized chaos," he said with a smile after dropping off trash cans and ladders to a crowd of volunteers huddled outside the Triple B tire shop. The building's facade, painted in the blue and yellow of nearby Southern University, needed refreshing.
Elsewhere, people dug holes at a lot that will soon be home to a small forest of cypress trees. A cement-block wall along the highway displayed outlines of geometric shapes that would later be filled with paint to create a colorful mural.
Phillips said The Walls Project has been working in Scotlandville for about three years, painting murals as well as holding educational programs for children in the area. He's hopeful the service festival — and what its participants accomplish — will encourage year-round involvement in community improvement efforts.
"The magic of it isn't in the actual work," he said, but rather in the relationships formed among volunteers, residents of the neighborhood and various organizations.
He noted that Broome has said she wants volunteerism and beautification to be priorities in Baton Rouge.
The approaching holiday honoring civil rights leader King highlights the importance of people, regardless of their backgrounds, working toward the common cause of making their city better, Phillips said.
"It's unrealistic to think we'll all think and believe the same way," he said, "but we all know what needs to be done."
People who want to volunteer Monday should report to the F.G. Clark Activity Center at Southern University, where they will be given an assignment. Those interested in participating are asked to register beforehand on The Walls Project website.