LONG BEACH - Several volunteers spread across Long Beach Monday said the city's celebration of National Day of Service coincided perfectly with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

"I think it's really important to be of service, especially on this day," said Maricela de Rivera, as she joined her husband, Jacob Rivera, and son, Tallis, 2, planting one of 10 spruce trees along DeForest Avenue.

The Riveras joined hundreds of other volunteers who cleaned alleys, cleared a nature trail and even picked fruit for the Food Finders food bank.

Volunteers Emily Whitcomb, left, and Wilson high school student Annastasia Sanchez gather leaves at DeForest Park Nature Trails Monday morning. The two
Volunteers Emily Whitcomb, left, and Wilson high school student Annastasia Sanchez gather leaves at DeForest Park Nature Trails Monday morning. The two were among many of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day day of service volunteers, spread out through the city, that cleaned streets, alleys and plant trees. (Stephen Carr / Staff Photographer)

Emily Whitcomb traveled to Long Beach from Newport Beach to join a cleanup at the DeForest Nature Trail with her son, Max Rosencrantz, 4.

"We're just grateful and blessed and wanted to give back," she said. "Plus it gives the message (of giving back) to our kids."

After disentangling a stick from his Boston Red Sox T-shirt, Max put his shoulder into a shovel and helped dump leaves into a large garbage bag.

"Is this good, Mommy?" he asked.

Whitcomb said although her son didn't yet understand the importance of volunteerism, she thought it was never too young to start teaching those values.

Rivera and Whitcomb both liked that the day of service coincided with Obama repeating the oath he took Sunday and the inaugural festivities in Washington, D.


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Although most cities celebrated the day of service on Saturday, in Long Beach, where the MLK Parade was staged Saturday, the service projects were held Monday.

"I was a little conflicted," she said, because the 9 a.m. tree-planting began as the president was making his inaugural speech.

"I was late," she said. "I listened to my president be sworn in and then I came out to be of service."

Whitcomb said she listened to the inauguration festivities on the radio while driving in to volunteer and told her son about the inauguration and King.

Volunteers Jessica Smigla, left, and Margret Wehrly remove discarded bottles from DeForest Park Nature Trails Monday Morning. The two are local Starbucks
Volunteers Jessica Smigla, left, and Margret Wehrly remove discarded bottles from DeForest Park Nature Trails Monday Morning. The two are local Starbucks managers who took part in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day day of service in Long Beach. (Stephen Carr / Staff Photographer)

Meg Cushing, a store manager of a Starbucks in Long Beach, was part of a large Starbucks contingent that regularly participates in community activities.

She said it was important to support the president, particularly on this day.

"I think it's fantastic," Cushing said. "It's nice to see someone in (the presidency) who is working hard for people."

According to organizers, National Day of Service activities were held in all 50 states. The events were chaired by Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Clinton and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On Saturday, Obama and the first lady volunteered at an elementary school where they helped stain a bookshelf.

One of the more unusual local events on Monday was fruit picking by about 15 volunteers at the home of Jose Jaramillo, who lives on the Westside.

The homeowner has a large orange tree that was laden with fruit. He recently got in touch with SoCal Harvest, which visits homes and harvests excess fruit and vegetables that it donates to Food Finders.

Jaramillo, who moved into the house two years ago, said the fruit from the large tree just went to waste last year after falling to the ground on windy days.

"It feels really great because it goes to people who need it," he said of donating the bounty from the tree.

Cindy Goss of SoCal Harvest said her group was celebrating its fourth anniversary. She estimated Jaramillo's tree would bear about 600 pounds of Valencia oranges.

She said the group was created in answer to Obama's first call to service.

Volunteers were armed with fruit-picking baskets attached to long extending poles. Some climbed ladders to reach higher into the tree, although even then much of the fruit was beyond reach.

Still, Goss was happy to see the fruit that was brought down.

"We love it," she said. "It's feeding people, what could be easier?"

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291, twitter:@gregmellen