She’d probably never meet the person who’d receive her handmade birthday card, yet Karen Quick was careful as she drew a bumblebee and colorful flowers under the message — “Happy Birthday, Bee-autiful.”

Quick, a junior, was one of about 90 students who showed up to do volunteer work at Bozeman High School on Monday, the first time Martin Luther King Day was a school holiday.

“I think it’s important to recognize some people in the community don’t have what most people do,” said Quick, a National Honor Society member. “We want to show them that they’re just as important as everyone else.”

Making greeting cards for people who might not otherwise receive any was just one of the activities students could join in. Students filled the Hawk Gym with a cheerful buzz as they chatted and worked side-by-side.

At one long table, dozens of students stuffed fundraising flyers that will go to 3,000 families asking for donations to supply weekend food backpacks for hundreds of low-income elementary school children who might otherwise go hungry.

“Who knew an assembly line could be so much fun?” quipped Derek Strahn, one of the high school social studies teachers who helped organize the school’s first MLK holiday day of service.

Teachers wanted to make the day more active and more meaningful for students, Strahn said. They organized the event with the Student Council, student clubs and the nonprofit Human Resource Development Council. HRDC runs the Gallatin Valley Food Bank, Warming Center and Kids Pack weekend food backpacks.

“I’m so proud of the kids, they’ve really stepped up,” said Strahn, adding that teachers are already talking about how this could be an event to bring students from both Bozeman high schools together next year when Gallatin High School opens.

Bozeman Mayor Chris Mehl told students that Martin Luther King Day challenges all of us to treat others with compassion and to ask, “What have we done to make our community a little bit better than we found it.”

Katie Laslovich, assistant principal, told students the fact they were giving their time off was “pretty awesome.”

The high school’s Human Rights Club, Leo Club, Key Club, National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society and Student Council participated. Social studies teacher Walker Asserson thanked student leaders who helped get things ready, including Sellers Shockley, Grace Rembert, Skyler Chandler, Ani Hadley, Jackie Olexa and Lucy Child.

The Student Council gave $500 to buy supplies for the event.

“We really wanted to give back to the community,” said senior Sydney O’Connor, student body president.

The Bozeman School Board made the right decision when it voted to make MLK day a holiday, “because we can honor his message and serve,” O’Connor said.

Previously Bozeman teachers marked the day with lessons about King. But some parents gathered 300 signatures in 2017, arguing that not making it a full school holiday was almost a slight to the slain civil rights leader and what he stood for. It has been a federal holiday since 1986, and Montana state government holiday since 1991. All other large AA high schools in Montana recognized the holiday when the Bozeman School Board voted in 2018 to make it a day off school starting in 2020.

“So many people are less fortunate than us,” said junior Hallie Morris, Leo Club president. “It feels really good to help people.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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