The first family served plates of steaming hot lunches to the needy Monday, one of several ways the nation's first black president paid tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on the holiday that honors the slain civil rights leader.
President Barack Obama also scheduled a White House talk with black elders and their grandchildren about the movement for racial equality that King led until he was assassinated in 1968. The president also was to speak later Monday during a musical celebration of King's legacy at the Kennedy Center.
Obama spent the day with King observances.
"How are you sir? God bless you," the president said, greeting one man among the dozens of men and women who filed into the dining room at So Others Might Eat.
Located near the White House, the organization provides the poor and homeless with food and other services. Obama handed them pre-assembled lunch plates of chicken, potato salad, mixed vegetables and bread.
He brought the whole family: first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia and Sasha, mother-in-law Marian Robinson and some aides.
Mrs. Obama poured hot coffee while 8-year-old Sasha tagged along and handed out packets of sweetener. Mrs. Robinson walked around serving Danishes from a baking sheet. Malia, 11, walked among the rows of diners, chatting with them and shaking hands.
One woman asked Mrs. Obama if she had brought the family dog, Bo. (She did not.)
Back at the White House, Obama and Mrs. Obama sat around a conference table in the Roosevelt Room for a discussion with people who had been active in the civil rights movement, including Dorothy Height, the longtime chairwoman of the National Council of Negro Women, and Willie Glanton, the first black woman elected to Iowa's state Legislature in the mid-1960s.
Obama told reporters the conversation served as a reminder "that there were some extraordinarily courageous young people ... who were actively involved in bringing about one of the great moments in United States history."
Last week's devastating earthquake in Haiti was a call to service the president didn't have to make. Relief and rescue efforts began immediately, and President Obama visited the operations center for victims in Haiti at the Red Cross Disaster Operations Center in D.C. Monday afternoon.
It was the president's second straight day of reflection on the legacy of King, whom Obama credits with paving the way for his 2008 election.
On Sunday, at a Baptist church founded by freed slaves, Obama spoke of his reliance on faith, recalled King's work and urged hundreds of worshippers to take heart in hard times and celebrate progress -- however small.