Not Sure How to Best Spend Your Day of Service This Year?

If you're stumped on where to donate your time on MLK Day of Service, you can find inspiration at your library.

Talk to your librarian for ideas about what help is needed in your community.

Who Is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American Baptist minister, civil rights activist, and political philosopher. He graduated from Boston University in 1955 with a doctorate in systematic theology. King quickly became one of the most prominent leaders in the civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968.

He believed all Americans should enjoy equal rights and civil liberties, regardless of race. King, first inspired by Mohandas Gandhi’s movement in India, thought that “the triple evils” (i.e., poverty, racism, and militarism) exist in a vicious cycle, which could be dismantled by living by a philosophy of nonviolence. King’s work has continued to inspire work in other social justice movements, including the animal welfare and environmental rights movements.

What Is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service?

Since 1983, the United States has celebrated the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the third Monday of January. The day was transformed in 1994 into a day of community service to best honor Dr. King’s legacy.

On this day, US citizens are encouraged to volunteer their time and labor to community service endeavors that aim to solve social problems. By engaging in a “day on” in service versus a “day off” from work, MLK Day of Service participants will aid in renewing their communities and bringing strength to the nation while honoring the memory of MLK.


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"How Can My Library Help Me Find a Place to Spend My Day of Service?"

Libraries know their communities, and they’re a great place to start if you want to learn more about the organizations in your area that could benefit from your day of service. Libraries are often involved with community events and usually maintain networks outside the library with other organizations in the local community.

Librarians gather information about community needs throughout the year. Then, libraries use this data to decide what programs and services they should provide patrons and which resources should be added to the collection. Simply head to your local library to talk to a librarian, or log onto your library’s chat messenger and begin asking questions like:

“What kind of community services are available in my area?”

“Are there any local nonprofits hosting special Day of Service events this year?”

“I’m interested in [insert your interests]. Do you know of any local organizations that might match my interests?”

“What do you think are the most immediate needs in this community, and are there any local organizations that work to meet those needs?”


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Day of Service Ideas

If you aren’t sure what interests you, that’s okay! Here are a few unique niche areas that might inspire you:

Fight Food Insecurity

According to the USDA, food prices across the nation increased by 9.9 percent in 2022. Food costs are predicted to rise an additional 5.8 percent throughout 2023, with no indication that costs will lower any time soon. This means that many households are experiencing food insecurity and financial strain like never before.

Food pantries and soup kitchens need volunteers to collect food donations and feed the hungry in local communities. Many of these pantries and kitchens are run by local churches or community centers.

Food Not Bombs is a unique organization that recovers would-be discarded food and redistributes this food to protest poverty and warfare. FNB is not a charity. Instead, FNB operates as an all-volunteer-based organization dedicated to nonviolent social change. All meals provided by FNB are vegan or vegetarian.

Bring Equitable Veterinary Care to Your Community

Check FixFinder to locate a low-cost spay and neuter clinic in your area. These clinics provide fewer services than a full-service clinic but are often a suitable option for those who might be struggling to pay for much-needed services and care (spay, neuter, microchip, compassionate euthanasia, vaccines, and wellness checks).

Some clinics offer spay shuttle services, so volunteers are needed to shuttle animals from home to the clinic and back again. Volunteers may also be required to run information tables at outreach events. Some of these clinics also run trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs and need volunteers to help manage community cat populations or shuttle feral felines to and from veterinary services.

Other Organizations in Need

If you’re looking for more, check with your librarian to see if any organizations in your area service the following social justice areas: LGBTQIA+ youth, Indigenous Land Back, senior citizens, veteran services, environmental justice, equitable healthcare services, services for the homeless (i.e., person without a home), animal welfare, children’s education, at-risk-youth programs, individuals with disabilities, or refugee resettlement. These are only a few suggestions; can you think of others?


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Don’t Forget to Support Your Library!

That’s right, your public library will happily accept your service! Library volunteers assist with several tasks, including but not limited to shelving books, preparing mailers or program brochures, helping with children’s or teen programs, receiving book donations, hosting library book sale fundraisers, and the list goes on!

Many libraries work with at least one library-focused nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide additional support to the library. Such organizations will often host fundraisers for the library throughout the year and attend outreach events to spread the word about the library's positive impacts on the community and to gather donations. 

There are thousands of opportunities out there, so do a bit of digging with your librarian and see what calls to you.

A Few Final Tips

Wherever you choose to spend your day of service this year, be sure that you take a moment to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his life’s work, and why it’s important to give service to those in your community. Don’t feel limited to dedicating only one day a year to your organization of choice. If you think you can commit one day a month or week to your own self-imposed “Day of Service” schedule, go for it!

“He who is greatest among you shall be a servant. That’s the new definition of greatness. . . . By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.



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