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“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Established as a federal holiday in 1983 at the urging of his wife Coretta Scott King, the third Monday in January is a day spent honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Since being signed into law and its first official celebration in January 1986, the three-day weekend that almost 45% of American workers receive now overshadows the purpose of the day: to honor the man who fought for racial equality, financial equality and justice.

Dr. King was assassinated because his message gave hope to an oppressed people. However, over the years, his message has transcended beyond the Black community and the Civil Rights Movement to touch the lives of people from all walks of life, all over the world. For this reason, he remains revered for the work he did to improve the lives of the oppressed. Instead of using the MLK Day of Service holiday to sleep in, you can take a cue from the life of Dr. King and turn a day off into a day of action. 

Ways to Serve Your Community this MLK Day

Now is the time to begin looking for volunteer opportunities in your community. Many volunteer opportunities will fill up fast, so the sooner you get your name on the list, the better. Serving others is not just about altruism, it is a great way to spend a day off and honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. 

Donate Blood

In addition to patients who require regular blood transfusions, the end of the year brings an uptick in car crash victims and fewer blood donors. This unfortunate mix depletes blood reserves across the country during the holiday season. Often, people who donate blood regularly get busy with holiday schedules including travel and celebrations. As a result, many miss their donor appointments. This year, MLK Day falls just three weeks into the new year and almost half of the working population has a day off. Using this time to donate blood will not only make a difference in the world but will impact the lives of the lucky individuals who receive your donation in their time of need.

Donate Gently Used Clothes and Shoes

Fill two needs with one deed and use your day off to declutter your closet and help others. Items that you no longer wear such as shoes, coats, pants, shirts, blouses and even purses and eyeglasses can become another person’s treasure. Donate your items to a worthy cause dedicated to improving the lives of those in need. Purging your closet to help those in need is a great way to spend your day off while doing good. Check out the following organizations to find a worthy cause you support:

Serve at Your Local Soup Kitchen or Food Pantry

The homeless population is often overlooked or looked down upon. For these reasons, there is no greater gift than helping to feed those in your community who would go hungry if not for these types of services.

Visit a Nursing Home or Senior Living Community

It is estimated that as many as 60% of nursing home residents never have visitors. Unfortunately, nursing home abuse and negligence are more likely to occur when residents have little to no visitors. Not only will you do some good in holding nursing homes accountable, but these nursing homes often rely on volunteers to interact with residents. For example, you can volunteer to call bingo, wow residents with your musical talents or even use your humanitarian clown act to entertain residents.

Help a Neighbor

Community service doesn’t necessarily have to serve a group of people. What you may consider a small act, may change the course of someone’s day—or life! You likely have neighbors who can use a helping hand every so often. Offer to tend to the yard or shovel the snow for an elderly neighbor free of charge. Or use your cooking skills to make the single parent next door a meal that will keep in the freezer. They will appreciate the homecooked meal after a busy day.

Prepare Displacement Kits for Families

While the Red Cross and other organizations step up to help families in the aftermath of a fire or natural disaster, you can still do your part to help displaced families. Even if some of the items in a family’s home can be salvaged, it can take weeks or even months to get clothes and other items returned. Displaced families need basic necessities such as clean clothes, sleepwear, and new underwear. Additionally, you can collect food, feminine and other hygiene products, pet food, diapers or gift cards to local stores to aid the family.

Volunteer at Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization that provides families in need decent and affordable housing. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes along with volunteers. It is important to note that the organization has age restrictions for volunteering on construction sites. If you want to take your children along, they must be 16 or older. 

Organize a Volunteer Activity

Some communities may not be as into volunteering as others. However, just because you can’t find a community service opportunity doesn’t mean that you can’t do some good. Dr. King lived his life to serve and was instrumental in creating opportunities for others to do good. If you are having trouble finding a volunteer opportunity, make one! You can organize a roadside clean up, collect items for a women and children’s shelter or help register people to vote.

Do a Random Act of Kindness

While the number of businesses that give employees the MLK Day of Service holiday off continues to grow, more than 50 percent of workers will still have to report for duty on Jan. 20 this year. However, even if you don’t have the time to volunteer, you can still perform a kind act for another person. Buy snacks for your coworkers, pay for the person’s coffee behind you at a coffee shop or even something as simple as holding the door open for someone. A simple act of kindness doesn’t require much work.

Martin Luther King Jr. died at the young age of 39. But in his short time, he spread a message of love, diversity, tolerance, and kindness. MLK Day is the perfect opportunity to bring compassion and kindness into the world that he hoped to see. As you begin to consider ways that you can serve your community this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s OK to think outside the box. Small gestures toward a specific individual can make just as big of an impact as volunteering to help hundreds.

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